As the MLB playoffs get underway, the buzz around Los Angeles has taken a field trip south of the city limits, to Anaheim, where the Angels have again claimed the division title.
Often overlooked, however, are the many pieces that go into a championship-caliber team.
For the past six years, the Angels organization has been gifted to have a premier second baseman in CSUN alumnus Adam Kennedy.
In three years with the Matadors, Kennedy became the first player to lead the nation in total hits for back-to-back seasons.
Along with the team’s appearance in the 1996 NCAA West Regionals, Kennedy shattered CSUN records that include career leader in batting average (.414), hits (337), home runs (51), RBIs (234), and three others.
“We had a great group of guys,” Kennedy said. “I enjoyed my time at CSUN. It is a place where you can really build a solid foundation for the type of player you will become.”
Well before his success in the majors, Kennedy attended John W. North High School in Riverside, where he played baseball and basketball. Although the 6-foot-1 Kennedy was able to dunk a basketball, it was baseball that he excelled at, achieving nearly every accolade imaginable, including Division II Player of the Year honors, a division title, and the retiring of his jersey, a rare occurrence at the high school level.
Kennedy’s ability to dominate the sport of baseball in high school won him collegiate recognition, and in 1995 he became a member of the CSUN Matador baseball team, under then head coach Mike Batesole.
“Even now, whenever I need advice on my hitting, I still call him (Batesole),” Kennedy said. “He is a big part in my life.”
After his third season with the Matadors, Kennedy was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round (20th pick) of the 1997 amateur draft.
“It may seem like a million miles away, but it is really only a few steps up,” Kennedy said, regarding the transition to the major leagues from college.
He began his major league career in 1999, appearing in 33 games for St. Louis. In the off-season, the Cardinals decided to make a change, trading him to the Angels for outfielder Jim Edmonds.
In his first year with the Angels, Kennedy made his presence felt, offensively and defensively, knocking in 72 runs and assisting in more than 100 double plays in just 156 games at second base.
In 2002, the Angels began their Cinderella season, making the playoffs as a wildcard entry. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the team’s World Series championship run was Kennedy’s performance during the American League Championship Series.
Kennedy had one of the all-time great individual hitting performances in postseason history, going 4-for-4 with three home runs and five RBIs, as the Angels clinched their first ever World Series trip with a come-from-behind 13-5 win over the Minnesota Twins.
During the playoffs, Kennedy batted .340 and was named the ALCS MVP.
Now comfortable in the starting second baseman role for the Angels, Kennedy has demonstrated his capabilities as both a confident batter and flawless fielder, and he and his teammates are back in the hunt for their second crown.
“It feels great,” Kennedy said regarding the team’s recent division title. “The division we play in is very tough and the American League is on such an even keel.”
Kennedy finished the 2005 regular season with a .300 batting average, a feat he has achieved only one other time. The last, however, had the Angels winning it all, back in 2002.
The Angels were fortunate enough to clinch the division title almost a week before the start of the playoffs, allowing Kennedy to ponder the significance of his second .300-plus batting benchmark.
“I (thought) about it a little bit, but it’s not that big a deal,” Kennedy said. “It is more important that we are in tune for the playoffs.”
After returning in the early part of the 2005 season from torn anterior and medial cruciate ligaments in his knee a year earlier, Kennedy ended the 2005 regular season with a .300 average. He achieved this monumental feat hitting in the No. 9 spot, the last position in the batting order.
“No. 9 hitters are extremely important in the American League,” Kennedy said. “It helps to keep the fluidity of the lineup.”
Kennedy is on a team with great hitters, like veteran left fielder Garrett Anderson and last year’s AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, but he said that the seven and eight hitters are also crucial to the team’s success.
Kennedy has brought stability to the tail end of the roster, but his offense alone is not all he has to offer. Kennedy is coming off a near-perfect year defensively with a career high .991 fielding percentage. His career average is .983.
His defense helped the Angels win the American League West division for the second straight year.
The first round of the playoffs pin the Angels against the high-octane and highly paid New York Yankees. As far as playoff preparation is concerned, Kennedy said prior to the American League Division Championship series that the team needs to keep playing consistently and stay sharp.
Playing the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs is not an easy task, especially with their overwhelming hitting ability. The Bronx Bombers’ batting success also has raised eyebrows among fans, causing the media to explore the disturbing issues of steroid abuse.
As far as the steroid issue is concerned, Kennedy offered it up as an annoyance.
“It is what it is,” Kennedy said. “But (steroids) are brought up so much by the media that it can get a little distracting.”
Even though Kennedy already has a World Series title and numerous accolades, he said the worst thing one can do is take it for granted.
“I enjoy the lifestyle of being in the majors, on the road and with this group of guys – I would not trade it for the world.”
Matt Osias can be reached at email@example.com