Kendall back in Florida, shoots for spot on single-A roster

A year ago, Ian Kendall was sending moon shots all over North Mountain Park, goofing off with his baseball buddies, most of whom he had known since their Little League days, and daydreaming about his future as an Oregon State Beaver.

Now, Kendall's baseball life is all business. He has no reason to step up to the plate for batting practice, nor or is he wearing OSU orange and black. He's across the country, in Port Charlotte, Fla., developing the rocket right arm that ultimately trumped the Beavers' full-ride scholarship offer, and finding out that there's a whole lot more to being a professional pitcher than pitching.

"It's really crucial," Kendall said of his current practice regimen as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, who drafted him in the fifth round of last year's Major League Baseball first-year player draft. "It's crucial to be able to prove to yourself and to the coaches that you deserve to be on this club and this team. A lot of people don't understand that baseball is such a mental game, too. And this is a really important time to show what you've done in the offseason."

If Kendall sounds like a player who's gearing up for that ancient spring ritual, baseball tryouts, that's because in a way he is.

Since arriving at the Rays' spring training complex with the rest of the organization's rookie pitchers on Friday, Kendall has been working out and on his game about five hours a day. The goal is simple: earn a roster spot on the best minor league affiliate possible, and show the organization that he's a player who's willing to do whatever it takes to improve.

Kendall is shooting high. He hopes to play for the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Rays' short-season single-A affiliate based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., but knows that more than likely he'll end up with one of the Rays' rookie league affiliates (he'll find out in early April). He has so far thrown two bullpen sessions limited to only fastballs and changeups. Kendall's third and most important bullpen is scheduled for today, when he'll face live batters for the first time this year.

Praised by former coaches for his excellent work ethic, Kendall says he's excited about improving his repertoire on the mound but admits that focusing entirely on his own development has been a bit of an adjustment. Last spring, Kendall led Ashland High to the Class 5A state championship game, buying in to a team-first concept championed by head coach Don Senestraro. Fans clad in Grizzly red and white flocked to North Mountain Park to cheer on the team's spectacular playoff run, and after games the Grizzlies, continuing a school tradition, removed their hats and took a bow along the third-base line.

Now, Kendall explains, it's all about improving as a player, and he's coming to grips with the fact that the days of "A-T-P" chants and postgame cookies are over.

"It's definitely hard coming from such a great community like (Ashland)," Kendall said, "but I'm not all alone I still have people I can call. Now, I'm trying to work for a goal for myself."

And the work is intense. Besides bullpen work and general training, Kendall is learning how to field his position from the ground up, a process that he says as been as taxing mentally as pitching is physically.

Among other nuances, Kendall is focusing on holding base-runners, fine-tuning his pickoff moves, backup responsibilities and covering home.

"There's so many different skills to learn," he said. "It's going to take years to really understand everything that you're watching. That's why the Rays bring up players so slowly — they want you to understand the game and reach your full potential."

Kendall doesn't have to look far to see examples of players who have reached their full potential. Among other current Rays, he's already spotted and worked out beside slugger Manny Ramirez, right fielder Matt Joyce and first baseman Dan Johnson.

When Kendall isn't playing baseball, he's usually hanging out with the other rookie pitchers, or relaxing at "home," a room at the Port Charlotte Days Inn. On Tuesday, he spent a few hours at the local mall. He hasn't been in the pool yet, though temperatures there in the mid-80s. Rumor has it, the players aren't allowed to go swimming, so Kendall doesn't want to risk it.

"There's not a lot to do here," he said.

"We usually hang around the hotel room. And everybody's tired at the end of the day."

Share This Story