Jason Kendall: Gritty veteran
Kendall, who had turned 25 just eight days earlier, came into that day’s matinee against Milwaukee with a .335 average, fourth in the National League. Kendall looked to maintain the mark by running out a bunt attempt. What ensued was one of the most gruesome injuries in baseball history as Kendall dislocated his right ankle. He underwent surgery the same day.
Some athletes may not have returned from the injury. Kendall did that and much more. Twelve months and one week after the incident, Kendall started in the All-Star Game! He went on to set personal bests in doubles and home runs while becoming the first Pittsburgh catcher to score 100 runs in a season.
Fast forward nearly a decade from Kendall’s banner season in 2000. Critics are quick to point out that his speed has slowed a bit or that his batting average has dipped. However, Kendall sees an opportunity to rebound, an opportunity to prove himself. The voice on the other end of Friday’s teleconference had the exuberance of a rookie and the experience of a 14-year veteran.
Kendall says that he sees the game differently now than when he broke into the majors. He says it took him six to seven years to master the craft of calling a Major League game. It’s not an easy thing to do and Kendall had an added advantage of growing up as the son of a big league catcher.
The ability to call the game attracted the Royals. General Manager Dayton Moore sees Kendall as one of baseball’s better game callers. He sees good blocking skills and a batter who works the count. Beyond those traits, Moore recognizes the intangibles that Kendall brings to the club: experience, a no-nonsense approach, an old-school attitude, a player who is respected by peers and coaches alike. That makes Kendall someone who will, as Moore put it, “shape the culture” of the catching philosophy in Kansas City.
While the Royals were scouting Kendall, the catcher likewise kept an eye on Kansas City. His dad, Fred, was the bullpen coach in 2006 and 2007. The elder Kendall told Jason about the young group of players in Kansas City. Jason has watched the Royals on MLB Extra Innings. He sees the talent in the young players and believes that the Royals are ready to take the next step.
Kendall spoke about his love for the game and a desire to give back to the game by mentoring Kansas City’s pitching staff. He sees mentoring as his number one priority and is excited to catch Zack Greinke. The veteran still carries the same determination that helped him return from the ankle injury. That hard-nosed style of play should make him a fan favorite in the heartland.