It’s there when he talks about his off-season wedding in Maui to the newly named Jody Kendrick, whom the Angels’ can’t-miss kid met while playing in the Arizona Fall League in 2005. And that smile certainly is there – possibly as big as ever – when he talks about his grandmother, Ruth Woods. Without Woods, the Angels’ new starting second baseman would not have a baseball career, much less be compared to some of the greats of the game at the young age of 23. “The neighborhood I grew up in was pretty tough and I’d see things that would happen all the time,” Kendrick said of Callahan, Fla., just outside Jacksonville. “My grandmother was one person that threw me into baseball and I fell in love with it and she kept me playing.” Kendrick and his two sisters were essentially raised by their grandmother because their parents were consumed by military commitments. Intent on keeping her grandson off the streets, Woods kept pushing baseball, even when the rising young talent had a bout of insecurity at age 13. “I was moving up to the senior-league level with older guys and I was kind of afraid at that point,” Kendrick said. “I never really told anybody but I was like, `I’m not going to play this year.’ She was like, `No, you’re going to play. You’re definitely going to play.’ That was the one time I almost stopped playing but she never let me quit.” Undersized at the time, but definitely not overmatched, Kendrick played at age 13 and played well. The Angels’ second baseman of the future was well on his way. “Even though I thought about quitting, I still loved baseball and I’m glad I didn’t,” Kendrick said. “After I was over that hump, I just kept going. You reach another hump by going into a slump or whatever and you just keep going. It happens, you get out of it and keep going. “That’s the one thing, that you have to keep enduring whatever you go through and keep pushing because you never know what can happen.” Last season was the perfect example of Kendrick applying life lessons to baseball. He made his major league debut April 26 against the Detroit Tigers and by May 14 he was back in Triple-A after batting just .115 (3-for-26) with the big club. There was no pouting. Instead, there was the revelation that more work needed to be done. Kendrick was befuddled by off-speed and breaking pitches, and he knew it. His demotion couldn’t have come at a better time since Salt Lake was about to face a bevy of soft-throwing left-handers. “I needed to have that idea of when those guys are going to try to throw those breaking balls, or try to make those adjustments to you that you are making to them,” Kendrick said. “I just made the adjustments and tried to be patient and see the ball a little longer.” On July 14 he was recalled again, allowing him time to participate in the Futures Game during all-star festivities before he left. The future had indeed arrived. He batted .500 (20-for-40) with the Angels in July and had a 16-game hit streak from July16-Aug. 6. It was the longest rookie hitting streak by an American League hitter last season. He reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances against the Yankees in August, collecting six hits and three walks. He batted .303 during his second stint with the club to leave him with a .285 average over 267 at-bats. He hit four home runs and collected 30 RBI. And he closed out his season in impressive fashion with a nine-game hit streak, batting .382 over that run. The Angels already were planning on parting ways with free agent Adam Kennedy, and Kendrick’s success made it a little easier to say goodbye to a well-liked veteran who also was a clubhouse leader. So now comes the pressure of filling some big shoes, just like Orlando Cabrera did when he replaced David Eckstein in 2005. What was Cabrera’s advice to Kendrick? “Don’t (expletive) it up,” Cabrera said with a laugh while looking in Kendrick’s direction. “The couple of games that I played with Howie was exciting,” Cabrera said. “We did pretty good double plays and he covered a lot of ground. He’s pretty good at turning double plays. I’m pretty excited about playing the whole season with him. I know I can learn a lot from him, as much as he can learn from me.” Kendrick is up for the test and has no problem with the pressures that come with a “can’t-miss” tag. “It’s not a burden, really,” Kendrick said. “It’s fun and it can be anything you want it to be. I don’t make much of it. It’s just part of the game. If I can play well and people want to label me, let them label me. But for me, I’m not going to call myself anything because I’m just a baseball player and I love this game and I’m just going to play.” After the year Kendrick had in 2006 it’s easy to see how he can keep things in perspective. Not only did he achieve a dream by making his major league debut, there was also the preparation that went into his January wedding. In between, though, he focused on his grandmother. Ruth Woods informed Kendrick shortly after the season that she had been battling lung cancer. “I had an idea she was sick for a long time,” Kendrick said. “She never told me.” In November, Kendrick went from Arizona back home to Florida to spend a week with his grandmother. Woods told her grandson that it was her time and she had no fear of death. Kendrick returned to Arizona and a week later Ruth Woods had died. “My whole career is dedicated to her, pretty much because I started out in her driveway throwing rocks and stuff and hitting rocks with little plastic bats,” Kendrick said without tears but with that ever-present smile. “She threw me out of her driveway and to the Little League field and I kind of ran with it from there. “She got to see me play major league ball and I got her a jersey before she passed away. I got the opportunity to give her that stuff. She knows what she meant to me. I would send her pictures with writing around the edges about how much I respect her and love her and that the game is truly is what she has given me.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
TEMPE, Ariz. – Through all the ups and downs, Howie Kendrick never forgets to offer his megawatt smile. It’s there when he talks about his second-half success in the major leagues last season and even when when he talks about his demotion earlier in the year.