Yankees prospect Kyle Carr’s inspirational journey an ode to his single mother

Yankees pitching prospect Kyle Carr grew up with a single mom, Carine Nguyen, and his younger sister.

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At 21, Yankees pitching prospect Kyle Carr is hogging the limelight with his arsenal variety with the Hudson Valley Renegades. The third-round pick in the latest draft, however, has faced unimaginable adversity, ranging from debilitating injuries to academic challenges and mental obstacles rooted in the trauma inflicted by his father during his childhood. These hardships forged an unbreakable bond between mother and son, a relationship that has propelled Kyle Carr, now the Yankees’ No. 11 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, toward his ultimate goal of reaching the Bronx.

Kyle Carr, the current top-ranked pitching prospect in the Yankees’ farm system, and his sister, Sydney, were raised by their mother, Carine Nguyen, who single-handedly took on the responsibility of parenting after their father’s absence due to alcoholism and substance abuse.

The story of Kyle Carr and his mother, Carine Nguyen, is one of resilience, love, and the power of an unbreakable bond. As the Yankees prospect continues to navigate the ups and downs of his baseball journey, he carries with him the strength and support of a mother who has been his guiding light every step of the way.

Even as Kyle Carr embarks on his first full season in professional baseball, striving to overcome a slow start in High-A Hudson Valley, he continues to rely on his rock from nearly 3,000 miles away. The Yankees rookie is well aware that he wouldn’t be where he is today without his mom’s unwavering support. 

Nguyen, fully aware of the challenges her son has faced, remains committed to being there for him, providing whatever assistance he needs as he pursues his dreams on the diamond.

Yankees prospect Kyle Carr is the son of a super mom

Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, dedicated countless hours to supporting her son’s passion, kneeling in their gym-like living room to pitch to Kyle Carr during his days as a two-way phenom. She became his chauffeur, driving him to travel team practices and games across various states, and his unwavering support system when he faced setbacks.

Kyle Carr, a reserved and introverted individual, has a personality shaped by the unique circumstances of his upbringing. His mother, Carine Nguyen, revealed that the player’s childhood was far from typical due to his father’s persistent alcohol addiction, which had been present since his birth. Nguyen made the difficult decision to leave when his sister was born, and Kyle Carr was then just three years old.

Yankees pitching prospect Kyle Carr grew up with a single mom, Carine Nguyen, and his younger sister.
nj.com

Despite early efforts to keep Kyle Carr’s father involved in their lives, his promises of change were consistently broken. He failed to show up for his first supervised visitation, missing his daughter’s birthday. On the rare occasions when he did appear after years of absence, his presence was unsettling. Once, he unexpectedly attended one of Kyle Carr’s games, calling out Nguyen’s name.

Behind the scenes, traumatic moments continued to accumulate. Although Nguyen did her best to shield her children, she couldn’t protect them from everything. Recognizing the importance of emotional support, she provided Kyle Carr with professional counseling as soon as he was old enough, ensuring that he always had someone to confide in.

While his father had reached out sporadically over the years, Kyle Carr was acutely aware of the hardships his mother had endured as a result of his father’s actions. Consequently, the Yankees prospect expressed his discomfort in maintaining any further communication with his father.

For Kyle Carr, sports served as a vital coping mechanism from a young age. However, when injuries prevented him from participating in the activities he loved, his mental well-being suffered. At nine years old, the Yankees prospect developed a Little League elbow, a consequence of his small stature. Doctors advised him to refrain from pitching until he reached puberty and grew into his body. When Kyle Carr entered high school, he stood barely five feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds, which led to excruciating back problems during a significant growth spurt in his sophomore year.

It wasn’t until Kyle Carr took the mound at a showcase during his sophomore year that he reintroduced pitching into his routine. Surprisingly, after years of solely playing in the outfield, he was suddenly throwing over 90 mph. While his hitting ability was impressive, his agent, Lenny Strelitz, was “blown away” by the life in his left arm. By the time the Yankees prospect committed to the University of San Diego, he was making waves at San Marcos High School as both a hitter and a pitcher.

Just before Kyle Carr arrived on campus for his highly anticipated freshman year at USD, where head coach Brock Ungricht envisioned using him as a center fielder and a Friday or Saturday night starter, he was sidelined with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Kyle Carr was forced to sit out the entire season as he underwent rehabilitation. When he returned for spring practice, poised for a breakout redshirt freshman campaign, tragedy struck again. During a bunt drill, the player broke his hand on a pitch from one of his teammates.

Carine Nguyen recalled the devastation he felt, noting that it was the first day of practice in January, and her son was facing yet another setback. The repeated injuries and the resulting inability to compete on the field took a toll on Kyle Carr’s mental state, compounding the challenges he had already faced throughout his life.

Kyle Carr, the newest Yankees' pitcher.
University of San Diego Athletics

College coach turns to be a father figure

Despite the setbacks, Kyle Carr persevered and worked his way back, ready to make a significant impact on Coach Brock Ungricht’s team. However, misfortune struck again during the first road series of the season when Carr tore his right labrum. According to Carine Nguyen, these incidents were not the result of any reckless behavior on Carr’s part but rather a series of freak accidents that continuously hindered his progress.

Determined to contribute, Kyle Carr pitched through the labrum injury, cutting short his appearance in the Cape Cod League that summer to return home for surgery. This marked the beginning of the end for his aspirations of being a two-way player.

The accumulation of these obstacles began to take a toll on Kyle Carr’s academic performance as well. Coach Ungricht went above and beyond to support him, dedicating countless hours to meeting with him in his office and even taking weekly check-in calls from Nguyen. In one instance, Ungricht cut an important recruiting trip short, hastily returning to campus on a flight from Arizona when he learned that Kyle Carr’s grades were rapidly declining.

Ungricht recounted a particularly memorable day when he and Kyle Carr went to breakfast and spent approximately four hours at the beach, working together to plan out the Yankees prospect’s class schedule and help him achieve his goals. During their frequent meetings in Ungricht’s office, they engaged in deep conversations about life, mindset, and attitude, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a positive outlook and not succumbing to self-pity in the face of repeated injuries. Together, they focused on seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, providing Kyle Carr with the support and guidance he needed to navigate the challenges he faced both on and off the field.

Kyle Carr credited his college coach, Brock Ungricht, as the closest figure to a father he had ever had, acknowledging his significant role in his success. However, it became increasingly apparent that he required a fresh start, and by the end of his sophomore year, the decision was made for him.

Just days after the Toreros clinched the 2022 West Coast Conference Tournament championship for the first time in nearly a decade, with Kyle Carr recording the final out via a strikeout on the mound, Ungricht received devastating news from USD’s athletic director. He would be ineligible for regionals and had to be removed from the school.

Ungricht, a former 30th-round pick by the Yankees in 2006 who played only 14 games in rookie ball, understood the transactional nature of the sport. However, the genuine bond he shared with Kyle Carr, which he described as “real love,” made the separation even more challenging. While acknowledging that school might not be the right fit for everyone, Ungricht remained confident that the player would thrive at the junior college level and position himself for a draft opportunity.

True to Ungricht’s belief, Kyle Carr did precisely that.

Carine Nguyen was always there to help when Kyle Carr needed to get some work in, like this soft toss session during a trip to Fiji before his spring season at the University of San Diego.
nj.com

Free from injury and living at home with his mother, Kyle Carr was virtually unstoppable during his time at Palomar Junior College. In 15 appearances throughout the 2023 season, he amassed an impressive 12-1 record with a remarkable 2.31 ERA over 78 innings pitched. The rookie’s specialty was commanding the strike zone with electric stuff, as evidenced by his 111 strikeouts and a mere 19 walks.

Looking back, Carine Nguyen views the transition to Palomar as a challenge that ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. Although being expelled from USD was never part of the plan, Kyle Carr found himself with more autonomy at Palomar. He was able to see his doctors and connect with Lenny Strelitz, who served more as an advisor and pitching coach than a traditional agent.

Strelitz recalled Kyle Carr’s time at Palomar fondly, noting that once he was healthy, his talent shone brightly. Representatives from various organizations flocked to watch him pitch, with Eddie Bane, the former Angels scouting director responsible for drafting Mike Trout, telling Strelitz that he was “the best guy he’s seen all year.” The only concern surrounding Kyle Carr at that point was the lack of data associated with his prospect profile, as scouts and executives would drop in to observe him pitch at the junior college level after extensively evaluating top recruits or college standouts thriving in elite programs.

Strelitz grew concerned when Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer attended one of Kyle Carr’s starts, which Strelitz described as one of his worst outings of the Palomar season. Strelitz, Carr, and Nguyen all believed that the Yankees would be an ideal fit for the left-hander, given the organization’s industry-wide reputation for developing young pitchers. Despite the subpar performance, they held out hope that the Yankees would recognize Kyle Carr’s immense potential and provide him with the opportunity to flourish within their system.

Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ scouting director, left the game feeling enthusiastic about Kyle Carr’s potential. His observations confirmed the findings of the Yankees’ extensive research on the young pitcher. The prospect displayed athleticism, effortlessly throwing 97 mph fastballs from the left side as if he were simply playing catch. Moreover, he demonstrated excellent command of all his pitches.

Kyle Carr’s ability to navigate through a challenging first inning only reinforced the notion that the composed starter possesses the resilience necessary to overcome adversity. As Oppenheimer and the Yankees delved deeper into Carr’s family background and the obstacles he had faced, their confidence in his mental fortitude grew stronger.

Oppenheimer stressed that player development extends beyond refining pitches; it also encompasses the mental aspects of the game. He emphasized the value of having players like Kyle Carr, who have successfully navigated trying circumstances that have tested their mental toughness.

After selecting shortstop George Lombard Jr. in the first round, the Yankees anxiously waited until their next pick in the third round, uncertain if Kyle Carr would still be available. When he remained on the board at No. 97 overall, the decision was clear. The prospect was the best player available according to their evaluations, making him the obvious choice for the Yankees.

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Throughout Kyle Carr’s high school career, mom Carine Nguyen was a constant presence, attending every single one of his games. However, from his tumultuous college journey to his initial starts in the Yankees’ system, she has not been there in person or tuned in to watch.

Nguyen admitted that when Kyle Carr began to garner recognition as a prospect, something he had always yearned for, she experienced a great deal of stress because she wanted it just as much for him as he did for himself. Despite not actively following Carr’s performances, Nguyen remains aware of his progress. She knows that he currently holds a 5.64 ERA in High-A Hudson Valley. After a recent outing where Kyle Carr allowed six runs on nine hits, he called his mother to update her on his ongoing work and the factors that contributed to his subpar performance. It’s likely that during their Mother’s Day phone call on Sunday, the Yankees prospect shared the news of his career-high seven strikeouts from the game before that day.

Kyle Carr reflected on moments when he struggled to find the drive to complete his tasks, but the memory of his mother’s resilience as a single parent caring for him and his sister inspired the Yankees prospect to persevere through his own challenges.

As a gesture of gratitude, Kyle Carr revealed that he is planning to take his mother and sister on a trip to Japan during the offseason, using a portion of the $692,000 Yankees signing bonus he received from last year’s draft. His ultimate goal is to save enough money to retire his mother one day, allowing to leave her work-from-home job in product management.

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