Spring Training / Padres : Padres' Kennedy Has Caught the Writing Bug

Times Staff Writer

Terry Kennedy missed his first deadline the other day.

The Padre catcher is trying his hand as a once-a-week baseball columnist for an Escondido newspaper.

The creative juices were flowing nicely, and Kennedy had his column ready on time. But he had trouble transmitting his work electronically via computer to Escondido from the team hotel here.

Welcome to the big leagues, Terry. Now you know why writers sometimes ask dumb questions after a ballgame--the deadline is drawing nigh.

Kennedy, the latest in a line of author/jocks that began with Jim Brosnan and continued with Jim Bouton and Pat Jordan, takes his writing seriously.

Aside from baseball commentary, he also keeps a diary, composes some introspective poetry and raunchy limericks and would like to do a novel, too. That's after he knocks out a short story or two.

Obviously, he isn't in it for the money, since the Padres pay him a salary of about $750,000.

"I know there is some competition among novelists, but I'm used to competition," Kennedy said. "At least I won't have to be concerned with putting food on the table."

Kennedy, a complicated mix of melancholia, dirty jokes and occasional lyricism, sometimes stays up all night reading if he becomes engrossed in a book.

His reading list includes biographies, science fiction and spy novels. Among works he admired were Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson entitled "The Path to Power" and Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

Kennedy said he has always felt fairly creative and yearned to write. He read a lot as a kid, even on a hot summer day perfect for baseball. He would come in from the ballfield at midday and pick up a book, delighting his erudite mother.

"I think a lot of athletes like to spout profundity," he said, challenging Eric Show for team leadership in the vocabulary department.

There's also a functional component of Kennedy's creative side.

Writing is a perfect escape from the day-to-day pressures of life in the big leagues, he said.

"It's very therapeutic. It's a good outlet, a way to get into my right hemisphere.

"Some of what I write, I just tear up without showing to anybody," he said. "And sometimes I can't write fast enough and forget what I wanted to say."

Sounds as if he has the makeup of a writer. Those certainly are common enough problems and observations.

Kennedy was asked for a brief critique of sports writers.

"A lot of you guys just don't ask the right questions," he said.

"I mean, you always come up to a guy after a game and ask what kind of pitch he hit for a homerun, or something like that. What I'd like to be asked is what I did to prepare myself for a certain situation or time at bat.

"I asked Ernie Banks that question once, and he said he would think of Lola Falana before going to bat. He did that to get himself relaxed, because he knew what he was likely to see and what he wanted to do when he got up there."

Kennedy, who has always had a tendency to be friendly one moment and thorny the next, turned antagonistic when questioned about his hitting goals for this year.

Of course, inherent in the question was a reference to his slump of last year, when he hit only .240 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs.

Those figures were significantly below the norms he had established the two preceding years, when he hit nearly .300 and averaged almost 20 homers and 100 RBIs.

"I'll trade the year I had for the club winning and getting to the World Series," he said. "I'm not worried about it. One bad year isn't going to affect me.

"My goals are still to get 1,000 RBIs for my career and to win a World Series. We came close last year."

Kennedy maintains that if he went backward in 1984, it was only at the plate, not behind it. He said his handling of pitchers maintained the upward curve he had set in previous years.

"I caught 16 of our staff's 17 shutouts," Kennedy said. "I wouldn't call that backsliding."

Kennedy achieved baseball history last year when he drove in three runs in the World Series. He joined his father, Bob, who had one RBI in the 1948 Series for the Cleveland Indians. They are the only father-son combination in history to achieve that distinction.

By seeking to go beyond baseball and become a writer now, Kennedy is taking a different path than his father.

The elder Kennedy, now vice president of baseball operations for the Houston Astros, might miss a deadline here or there, but at least he doesn't have editors breathing down his neck.

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