Howie Kendrick: Leadership Defined

April 16th, 2018

The following is one of four feature articles included in the April/May issue of Nationals Magazine, available in the Main Team Store and throughout Nationals Park.
Nationals infielder/outfielder , by his own account, was one of the top high school baseball players in the state of Florida as a senior.
However, one of the few college programs that showed any attention was the University of Florida, before head coach Andy Lopez left the school to take over at the University of Arizona.
"No real [recruitment] interest I guess, in a sense," recalls Kendrick, who went to West Nassau High near Jacksonville.
Kendrick said he tried out for about "seven or eight" junior college baseball programs. The last one was St. John's River State College in Palatka, Fla., which offered him books and tuition.
It appeared that Kendrick would redshirt as a freshman, but he quickly made an impression.
"In the fall I played well and the second baseman, Chad Williams, told me, 'Hey, man, I am going to the outfield so you can play second.' I was supposed to redshirt and I ended up playing," said Kendrick, standing by his locker during Spring Training in West Palm Beach. "That helped me get drafted. I was thankful to Chad for giving me the opportunity."
Sixteen years after his professional debut, Kendrick is still often overlooked despite his impressive credentials. That included a career average of .291 going into this season with 313 doubles, 104 homers and 123 stolen bases in 1,435 games over 12 Major League seasons.
Washington catcher Matt Wieters was with the Baltimore Orioles for several seasons and faced Kendrick many times.
"I always thought he was one of the most underrated players in the big leagues," Wieters said during Spring Training. "He gives a manager so much flexibility. He can rest [starters] when you need it. Just a professional hitter; calling games against him, it is tough to find a place to go" with a pitch to get him out.
Kendrick, 34, was drafted in the 10th round by the Los Angeles (then-Anaheim) Angels in 2002 and simply mashed the baseball throughout his Minor League career.
He broke into pro ball in the Rookie-level Arizona League by hitting .318 that year. Kendrick then hit .368 in 2003 in the Pioneer League and batted .367 in the low Single-A Midwest League the following season.
The right-handed hitter then batted .384 in the high Single-A California League in 2005 and .342 in the Double-A Texas League later that year. He continued to hit at Triple-A with Salt Lake, where he batted .369 in 2006 -- the same season he made it to the Majors for the first time.
Kendrick put together nine quality seasons with the Angels, two more in Los Angeles with the Dodgers and began the 2017 season by hitting .340 in 39 games with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals acquired him in late July just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.
He played 37 games in left field and also saw action at first base, second base and in right field. Kendrick was a free agent at the end of the year but signed a two-year contract with the Nationals in January.
"When we were trying to find alternatives, there were alternatives -- but they weren't as perfectly formed as Howie Kendrick was," President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters this spring. "His skill set, his ability to play every day and come off the bench. He can play multiple positions. And then you have the extra additive skill set that he's a leader in the clubhouse, and really in the short stint here, turned into one of the leaders here. That was just kind of icing on his performance."
Kendrick knows that he could play all over the field again this season, with regular second baseman and regular left fielder both recovering from knee surgeries.
"I will play some infield this year. I already know that. Being able to help the team win is the biggest thing. I did it last year," Kendrick said. "I feel a lot more comfortable [playing outfield] now. I feel this year I will be even better at it. As a team and a front office, they have a lot of confidence in me. I can give guys a breather here and there and do my part."
"He's awesome," new Nationals Manager Dave Martinez told reporters in Spring Training. "I can't say enough about him. His leadership in the clubhouse, and the fact that he can do so many things and hit anywhere in the lineup and never complain ... he's a good guy to have around. He's going to help us win a lot of games."
No matter where Kendrick has gone, he has been part of winning teams. He has appeared in the Postseason with the Angels from 2007-09 and 2014, with the Dodgers in 2015 and 2016, and with the Nationals last season.
"Coming up in 2006 with the Angels, we didn't make the Postseason and it was an eye opener," he said. "After that, we made it a few years in a row. When you have a team that is consistent and you can do things the right way, you can start winning, even make the World Series. That is the epitome of what we want to do."
Kendrick hopes to be part of a winner again in 2018. "We have the same guys coming back for the most part. It is going to be a great year," he said.
The veteran embraces the role of a clubhouse leader and mentor to developing players.
"I love talking to the young guys. They get their work in; everyone shows up ready to play every day. I try to help them understand we have all been there. The biggest thing is having those guys feel comfortable," Kendrick said.
One still-young outfielder with the Nationals is , 25, who has an MVP Award and several All-Star game appearances on his resume.
Kendrick enjoyed watching Harper as a teammate for the first time. "It was impressive," Kendrick said. "The guy has been amazing. He has been a phenom even before he came into pro baseball. The guy works hard. He wants to get better; that is scary. I have been really impressed with him since coming over here."
Kendrick was able to work out this offseason in Arizona with Kevin Long, the new hitting coach for the Nationals, on the field at Paradise Valley Community College.
Long grew up in Phoenix, played at the University of Arizona and went to high school with Kendrick's brother-in-law.
"He threw batting practice to some of us. We have already started making some minor adjustments," Kendrick said. "He knows the game of baseball. It is going to be a fun year for all of us."
Kendrick was happy to come back to the nation's capital, even though he has lived with his wife and two sons in Arizona for several years. Last year he was able to see some of the major sites in Washington, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"I love D.C. -- history is one of my favorite subjects. My kids love it, too. I love the Air and Space Museum," he said.