July 22, In the air between Chicago and Phoenix – Yusmeiro Petit has been amazingly effective in his five starts this year. It is not the stuff that flukes are made of because he simply hits his spots and keeps the opposing hitter’s weight shifting back and forth in the batters box. Teams have scouting reports on Petit by now and it’s not making a difference. On the same day the a man named Pettitte got 21 runs of support, a man named Petit was backed by three runs and needed only one.
Here’s part of a conversation I had the other day with blue-collar backstop Jason Kendall. Since 2000, Kendall has started 1,073 games behind the plate, number two on that list is Jorge Posada, who is more than 100 starts behind Jason on the list.
Daron: Do you think about the catching record of 2,226 games held by Carlton Fisk?
Jason: No, I don’t think so. I just love playing the game, I love catching and I love being in the middle of it. As soon as I start loving it is probably the day that I get out, which is the same thing that I probably told you about ten years ago.
Daron: I think what impresses a lot of people about you is that you play every day, in a catcher’s world you truly do.
Jason: Rest in the off-season. This is our job and this is what we get paid to do, we get paid to play a game and not too many people can say that. I definitely enjoy what I do and when I stop is when I get out. I respect the game more than anything and I feel I need to be out there every day to help the team in some aspect. I enjoy and love it and like I said earlier, the off-season is when you get to rest.
Jason: Yeah and there’s no doubt that I get that from my dad (Fred Kendall). It’s kind of like your dad did in that era when he taught you and when it was a game. You see, I was fortunate to have a father that played in the big leagues for so long and you take a lot of pride in that. That is your first priority, to get your pitcher through as many innings as possible and let the bullpen take over and try to get a "W".
Daron: How often did dad take you to work?
Jason: He took me to work a lot, but as far as what I can remember, it’s kind of shaky because I was six when he got out. I definitely remember going to the ballpark and going to watch him and listening to his name over the loud speaker. Then I’d go back and play tennis ball, or whatever, with my brother, but it was definitely fun to have a father in the big leagues.
Daron: Everyone always talks about Fred Kendall, but what about Patty (mom)?
Jason: Yeah I was very fortunate to have a good family growing up and they took care of me. The family life is hard in baseball because you are traveling so much. An example is that I just left the west coast because of baseball where my family just was and I left behind four kids. That’s the hardest part about it. You have to have a good woman, I have one and my mom was one and I’m very fortunate in that aspect.
Jason: It was a good experience and it was fun. I remember that in 93’ we got in a fight and at the time I wasn’t making any money. So the umpires came out there and discussed with the managers who was going to get thrown out and my dad said, "What about their catcher? You should throw their catcher out, he was the one who tackled the hitter when he was charging the mound." He was trying to get me kicked out of the game because I was wearing them out. That’s the kind of gamer that my dad was and he showed it right there, but I was wondering if he would have paid my fine.
Daron: Did you enjoy breaking in with so many seasoned veterans with Pittsburgh in 1996?
Jason: Yeah, I broke in with another rookie catcher, Keith Osik, and it was one of those things where you definitely learn. I mean you learn how to call a game, but that really takes a while, it mayber took me six or seven years to really learn how to call a game. I started to figure out how to watch hands and watch feet and learned that hitters are always making adjustments. I remember at one point catching Denny Neagle, Danny Darwin and Zane Smith. There were some true veterans there. I remember one time Leyland asking me to go to the mound and talk to Darwin, who was 40 years old and I just said ‘no’. Then I finally walked out there and Danny told me to get out of there, but that he would throw whatever I put down. I definitely learned from the guys back then, but it’s the type of game where I still learn today.
Daron: What has the move to the Cubs been like?
Jason: Every big league player that plays this game has wanted to come here and play for the Cubs. It has always been my favorite place to play, this history, the fans and the pinstripes. It’s just one of those things that I really appreciate, not only do I get to play in the majors, but I get to now do it in this park in front of these fans.
See you soon. Have a great week.