COLUMBIA — Ian Kinsler calls himself a "desert boy."
There is evidence to support this theory. He makes his living in Texas and was born and raised in Arizona, where he grew up shagging fly balls under the relentless southwest sun. After high school he enrolled in a local junior college before transferring to Arizona State.
When things didn't work with the Sun Devils, Kinsler looked for a change of scenery. But not too big a change. He felt comfortable in the heat. That's why when Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson called the first time, he didn't know what to say.
"I didn't even know where Missouri was," Kinsler said.
Kinsler and four others — Justin Smith, Christi Myers, James Taylor and Helen Wilson — were inducted Friday into the University of Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame.
A three-time Major League Baseball All-Star, Kinsler has played in two World Series with the Texas Rangers, the team that drafted him in 2003 out of Missouri.
His feats might never have happened if he had not ventured north to play for Jamieson.
Kinsler said Jamieson committed to him quickly, after just two days of scouting.
"That made my decision to come here extremely easy," he said.
A second baseman now, Kinsler was a shortstop for the Tigers. He hit .335 with six home runs, 45 runs batted in and 16 stolen bases in his only season in Columbia.
Jamieson said he saw glimpses of the player Kinsler would become when he was in college.
"In a regional that year against Middle Tennessee State, he hit a home run that was one of the furthest home runs I've ever seen in college baseball," Jamieson said. "We kind of said 'Where did that come from?' He'd hit some home runs but never like that."
Ten years later, Kinsler is one of baseball's most productive sluggers. A dynamic combination of power and speed, he has hit 143 home runs and stolen 157 bases in just six seasons, and signed a 5-year, $75 million contract extension with Texas in 2012.
He is easily the most successful position player to come out of Missouri. Most of the other former Tigers to succeed in professional baseball — Kansas City's Aaron Crow, Detroit's Max Scherzer, to name a few — are pitchers.
Coming to Missouri benefited Kinsler and the Tigers equally. Missouri made a postseason Regional in 2003 for the first time in six years, and they've qualified for one in seven of the nine seasons since. Missouri taught Kinsler how to play outside the flawless outdoor conditions of the Southwest.
He learned how to do things he never would have at home, like how to hit in the cold and how to field ground balls on the bumpy surface of a cornfield, where coach Evan Pratte would take his players for extra work.
"It's this odd area on the other side of the interstate," Kinsler said. "That's something I'll always remember: jumping in vans with my teammates and driving across the freeway to a farm to take ground balls on a little infield cutout of corn."
When Kinsler took to the podium Friday night to accept his award, he thanked a lot people. He thanked his wife for her support, Jamieson for an opportunity and Pratte for the grounders. Then he thanked his parents for letting him go to school so far from home.
If they hadn't, he may have never grown into an All-Star. He may have just stayed a boy who never knew anything but the desert.