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Kendrick inspires with Negro Leagues speech

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president addresses youth in Historic Dodgertown
Special to MLB.com

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Though Jackie Robinson may have carried the torch, he really was just the tip of the iceberg. That was the message conveyed by Bob Kendrick to a captivated audience on Monday night in a presentation to the more than 120 baseball players ages 13-14 from all over the country during Week Two of the 2018 Elite Development Invitational at Historic Dodgertown.

Kendrick is the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. He regaled the group with insightful and entertaining tales from the old Negro Leagues.

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Though Jackie Robinson may have carried the torch, he really was just the tip of the iceberg. That was the message conveyed by Bob Kendrick to a captivated audience on Monday night in a presentation to the more than 120 baseball players ages 13-14 from all over the country during Week Two of the 2018 Elite Development Invitational at Historic Dodgertown.

Kendrick is the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. He regaled the group with insightful and entertaining tales from the old Negro Leagues.

Starting as a volunteer in 1993, Kendrick quickly got caught up himself in the rich history of the old leagues.

"I fell in love with the story and those who created that story," Kendrick said. "It gave me chills. To walk on these very humble grounds here in Vero Beach at Dodgertown is really something special -- to know that Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, all these legendary African-American ballplayers that came up through the Dodgers' ranks, walked on these same grounds."

The EDI, which is in its fourth year in operation by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Association, is the pinnacle of baseball's diversity-focused amateur development camps (including the Breakthrough Series & DREAM Series). Players for EDI were selected by a combination of groups including the MLB Youth Academy network, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, USA Baseball, the Buck O'Neil Scouts Association, MLB Scouts and individual active and former players.

Players from 17 states and Washington, D.C., were invited to participate in the second week of the 2018 program, the goal of which is to provide elite training and instruction opportunities from former Major League players and coaches.

Kendrick emphasized the fact that before he wore No. 42 with the Dodgers, Robinson wore No. 5 with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. And as Kendrick explains it, although he broke the color barrier in 1947, he wasn't even the best player on the Monarchs team.

"That is not to disparage Jackie Robinson," Kendrick said. "Jackie Robinson is one of the greatest athletes in American sports history -- a four-sport star at UCLA. But Jackie was the right guy to be the first. He had the intangibles that better prepared him for the racial hatred he would be confronted with.

"He was college educated, served in the military. He was disciplined. He was to become married. He was stable. All those attributes would be called upon to deal with that racial hatred. We should never forget Jackie Robinson, but we should never forget the league that gave us Jackie Robinson."

Sam Cantrall -- a pitcher, first baseman and outfielder -- was one of the many enthralled by Kendrick's presentation and said he won't soon forget.

"I really learned that African-American athletes are really multi-sport athletes, and I underestimated them a lot," Cantrall said. "I think they could potentially be better than MLB All-Stars now. The best would steal 55-60 bases, but players back then would steal 80-100 bases. I'm definitely impressed with that."

Cantrall added that he would further study the Negro Leagues once he returns home to Millburn, N.J.

"Definitely, I'll try to get out there at some point. I want to know more about their stats," he said.

Thanks to people like Kendrick, those stories will live on, stories of greats like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, who could hit a baseball as far as anyone in any era.

"I don't know what his exit velocity was or his launch angle was, but when he hit it, it went out in a hurry," Kendrick told the group. "Their stories should not die. They built the bridge that you will cross over. We should not forget the people who built that bridge. That's what we celebrate in Kansas City."

It was certainly a learning experience for shortstop John Martinez, from nearby Orlando.

"I learned that there were more great players behind Jackie Robinson and more that helped develop the Negro Leagues," Martinez said. "I feel like I will teach younger kids the same story that [Kendrick] showed us and keep passing on the legacy. I don't want the Negro Leagues to just die. I want to see the story continue."

Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com.