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For Gary Kendall, Molding Young Players With Bowie Baysox Has Been Rewarding

March 16, 2016
There are thousands of stories about "baseball lifers," those who grew up with the game and never left. 

At the age of 52, Gary Kendall isn't old enough for enrollment in such an exclusive fraternity. But with a resume that covers almost half of his adult life and a career that keeps improving with age, it's safe to say he'll soon be eligible.

And it matters not to Kendall that he's spent a quarter of a century in the game and his only big league exposure came during his first five years, 1991-95, when he pitched batting practice for the Orioles. 

"I treat it the same way I tell my players -- this is our big leagues," said Kendall, manager of the Orioles' Double-A affiliate, the Bowie Baysox. "Our job is the same as theirs (big league players) -- they just play on a bigger stage than we do."

It was during his gig as batting practice pitcher, when he also served as a part-time scout, that Kendall had brief exposure to another "lifer," who would greatly influence his career. 

"I picked Cal Ripken Sr.'s brain every chance I got," said Kendall, himself noted for his organizational ability. "There was no such thing as a bad question to Senior. He never made you feel dumb, and I asked him about everything. I figured I had nothing to lose, and I tried to absorb everything.

"To me, it might take 10 years of playing experience to make up for one week being around Senior. He was on the coaching staff then, and he went over everything, and I tried to absorb as much as I could." 

The Orioles actually "scouted" Kendall as a batting practice pitcher -- while he was throwing pregame for two other teams. At the time, he was a coach with the Johnny's-Leone's team run by Walter Youse, a former Orioles scout then working for Milwaukee. 

"Whenever the Brewers would come to town, Walter would send me out to Memorial Stadium to get baseballs," Kendall said. "One time he told me to offer to throw batting practice, and if anybody asked to tell them, he (Youse) recommended me. That's how it all started.

"Terry Crowley was the hitting coach at Minnesota at the time, and his son, Jimmy, was playing on our (Johnny's-Leone's) team, and when the Twins came to town, he asked me to throw BP for them. [Former O's general manager] Roland Hemond had seen me throw for the Brewers, and the Twins and asked if I'd like to throw for the Orioles." 

Ironically, Kendall was an infielder, not a pitcher, in high school and college. He became a batting practice pitcher out of necessity. 

"We didn't have batting practice pitchers growing up or in school -- so we would throw for each other," he said. "And you didn't want to be throwing a lot, so you had to learn to throw strikes."

Kendall has now managed 12 years in the Orioles' minor league system (707-704), the last five with Double-A Bowie (375-334). The Baysox have not had a losing season during his tenure there, and last year they won their first Eastern League championship while posting a 79-63 record.

Issue 219: 2015 Eastern League Champion Bowie Baysox, Gary Kendall
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bill Vaughan

Despite his success, Kendall harbors no illusions about coaching or managing in the big leagues. 

"Look, as a young kid, you always dream of being a big league player," he said. "When that doesn't happen, you get a minor league job and move on -- you have a task to do. No matter my job, I always treat it like a major league job.

"Certainly, if the chance came to go up to the big leagues as a coach or manager, it would be wonderful, but in the same breath, I always felt my best job down the road for the Orioles was to be with young players. When [Orioles director of player development] Brian Graham asked me to go to Bowie, it tore me up at first. 

"I could've stayed at [short-season] Aberdeen forever. I loved it there. I loved working with the younger players, and I loved working in extended spring training. I was a little reluctant at first." 

But the move has proved to be beneficial for both the organization and the manager. Sometime this spring, those who played for the Baysox last year will receive their championship ring. For most, it will be a first.

It won't be a first for Kendall, but it will most definitely have a special meaning. 

"I got one in the Arizona Fall League (in 2013) and two when I was a coach at Idaho Falls (during a four-year stint in the San Diego organization), but this one is different," Kendall said. 

"The fact that it happened in an Orioles uniform makes it special," Kendall said. "We have stressed the importance of winning throughout the organization -- it's something [Orioles manager] Buck [Showalter] and [executive vice president of baseball operations] Dan [Duquette] have stressed, and they were the first to call and congratulate.

"And I also think it was very big for the city of Bowie. It's the first one in 23 years, so that meant a lot, too."

Kendall doesn't know what the future holds, as he almost certainly moves into the category of "baseball lifer," but it's obvious the game is part of his DNA. Down the road, he can envision himself being a field coordinator or even possibly serving a hitch as a coach in Japan or Korea -- working with young players, of course.

And if winning an Eastern League championship ends up being the signature moment of his career, so be it. It might say Double-A -- but in Gary Kendall's world, it was big league all the way.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.

Issue 219: March 2016