Kennedy Has Always Made Major Plans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The high school guidance counselors, college academic advisors, his parents--both teachers--they all told Adam Kennedy the odds of making the major leagues were slim, that he should have a contingency plan in case baseball did not pan out.

Little did they know that for Kennedy, all Plan B stood for was baseball.

"I have no idea what I'd be doing if I wasn't playing baseball right now," Kennedy said. "If you have a contingency plan, you're more likely to fall back on that."

He's not sure he'd advise kids to follow his one-track approach to life, but it was this single-mindedness, this drive and determination, that got Kennedy where he is today: starting at second base for the Angels, who open the 2000 season tonight against the New York Yankees at Edison Field.

It came a little sooner than expected--Kennedy, 24, was headed for triple-A Memphis when the St. Louis Cardinals traded him and pitcher Kent Bottenfield to Anaheim for center fielder Jim Edmonds on March 23--but that does not mean he isn't ready.

From the days he'd tag along with his father to practices at Riverside J.W. North High, where Tom Kennedy was the baseball coach, and the times he'd study how winning teams such as the Lakers, Celtics and Dodgers acted, Kennedy has prepared his whole life for this moment.

"I'm a born-and-bred competitor," Kennedy said. "This is what I do. I love it so much . . . I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Some questioned Manager Mike Scioscia's decision to plug Kennedy into the second spot in the batting order, a position that comes with more responsibilities and pressure than the eighth or ninth spot, where many managers slot rookies.

Kennedy, seemingly oblivious to such pressure, hit a two-run home run and a two-run triple in his first exhibition game as an Angel on March 25.

"He's just not afraid," said Mike Batesole, who coached Kennedy at Cal State Northridge. "He's never going to flinch."

A typical Kennedy moment: Northridge was facing Stanford in an NCAA regional game in Kennedy's sophomore year, and most of the pregame hype centered on Stanford pitcher Chad Hutchinson and his 97-mph fastball.

"Adam led off the game with a home run," Batesole said. "Hutchinson was The Man, and one batter into the game, it was 1-0."

Batesole describes Kennedy as "a gamer," and it's not a compliment he throws around loosely. Batesole was a teammate of Lenny Dykstra at Garden Grove High.

"What the Angels are getting is a throwback," Batesole said. "I see a lot of the same characteristics in Adam as I saw in Lenny. He knows the importance of dragging and pushing bunts, of running the bases hard, of working counts, of getting hit by a pitch.

"Those three-four-five hitters there are going to love him, and the baseball purists will love watching him play."

It may not be love at first sight, though. Kennedy is not blessed with great speed and quickness or a cannon-like throwing arm, and he won't be among the league leaders in home runs.

But he has a fine blend of aggressiveness, instincts and a keen knowledge of the game--what angles to take on grounders and pop-ups, what base to throw to, where to position himself. That, and a work ethic to rival any, is why he was considered one of the Cardinals' top prospects.

"He's not a guy you look at and say, 'Oh my God, look at his skills,' " Scioscia said. "But he grows on you. He has some ability, and I think he's going to have an impact. He's an exciting player, and his makeup brings him to a higher level. Fans will be able to sense that energy."

Kennedy, an All-American at Northridge who led NCAA Division I in hits as a sophomore (121) and junior (134), does not have huge shoes to fill in Anaheim--just many.

Since Gary DiSarcina became the Angels' shortstop in 1992, he has had 23 different double-play partners, 12 of whom were regulars and perhaps two who were considered above average players, Tony Phillips and Randy Velarde.

Kennedy hopes to remove the revolving door from the middle of the infield, and he couldn't ask for a better chance.

"This is the perfect situation, because I grew up watching Mike Scioscia, [batting instructor] Mickey Hatcher and [first-base Coach] Alfredo Griffin play for the Dodgers, and that's how I play--hard, doing whatever it takes to win," Kennedy said.

"I hope to bring that spirit to the team, to earn these guys' trust and respect. I want them to know I'll be there every day, trying to come through in big situations . . . doing that for your teammates, there's no better feeling in the world."

Whatever pressure and expectations come with the job, they shouldn't bother Kennedy because "my expectations are way higher than anyone else's," he said.

That's obvious when you ask him to list a weakness.

"I don't know if there's one, it's every single thing," Kennedy said. "I wish I'd never make an error. I wish I'd never make an out. I wish I never made a mistake. I don't know that I'm a perfectionist, I just really expect a lot from myself."

This attitude, and what his father calls "a little bit of an Irish temper," always worried Tom Kennedy about his son. Baseball, after all, is a game built on failure.

"I've wondered if he would be able to handle the frustration that comes with the game," Tom Kennedy said. "But I think he's been able to blend being so demanding and being able to deal with the negatives, which he views as challenges. And when he gets mad, he's been able to channel that to determination."

Not as well as his father, Adam admits.

"My dad has a competitive spirit like me, but he deals with things a little better," Kennedy said. "I tend to blow up at times. I have to get everything off my chest. As soon as I do, I get over it and move on.

"My dad has tremendous patience. I don't know if I'd be so patient if I had a son who did some of the things I did. It was nothing beyond the typical teen-age trouble kids get into, but I was not an angel growing up."

He is now.

TONIGHT'S OPENER

vs. NEW YORK

Ken Hill vs.

Orlando Hernandez

Edison Field, 7:30

Ch. 9, KLAC 570

COVERAGE:

Page 6

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