Former Diamondbacks’ right-hander Ian Kennedy remembers watching the Kansas City Royals in their drive to the World Series championship last year. Listening to player interviews throughout the post-season, the words and tone reminded Kennedy a great deal of the season in which he helped Arizona capture the National League West Division title in 2011. Same mentality and same approach.
Now part of the Royals, Kennedy believes his time with the Diamondbacks will make his current transition to Kansas City seamless. At the same time, he reminds those teams rich in talent that there is more to winning than putting up big numbers.
Coming from “been there, done that” experience with the Diamondbacks, Kennedy is a unique position to draw comparisons between his time in the desert and what he found in Kansas City. After two trips to the World Series in the past two years and capturing the crown a year ago, Kennedy found the Royals ever bit unselfish now than before they started their run two years ago.
Signing a 5-year, $70 million contract with the Royals in the off-season, Kennedy’s transition to the American League will not be difficult. Explaining “I’ll watch video on some guys I haven’t faced,” the more important consideration is fitting into the Royals’ culture. That that will be smooth, Kennedy pointed out, and there are striking similarities between his participation with the Diamondbacks in their 2011 run and what he has already discovered.
“I’m here only three days, and I can see how unselfish everyone really is,” he said Sunday morning in the Royals clubhouse at Surprise. “I listened carefully to the post-game interviews and no one player talked about themselves. It was always the team first, and how each player contributed to the win.”
That was essentially the make-up and disposition of the 2011 Diamondbacks, he pointed out, and noted certain players constructed a team-first mentality. That created a friendship and comradery important for players to buy into the team idea.
“That’s what J. J. did,” Kennedy said in reference to 2011 closer J. J. Putz. “He brought a change of behavior, and it was very team-conscience. When you get that team-first feeling, it changed, for me, how you pitch.”
That may be creditable advice to the current band of Diamondbacks. With the addition of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Paul Goldschmidt and A. J. Pollock coming off All-Star and Gold Gloves seasons, the expectation for Arizona is high. In order to harness the optimism, Kennedy reminds any listener that when stats are obliterated from the score sheet, team unity rises. Numbers mean nothing, he went out of his way to emphasize, and it’s all about how the team proceeds as one, collective unit.
After spending most of his seven-year major league career in the National League, save 14 games with the Yankees over parts of three seasons, Kennedy now joins a staff which led the American League in wins (95) a year ago, and placed third to league-leading Houston and Cleveland in ERA. At the same time, Kennedy discounts a transition as wide as an ocean, and concerns about a learning curve on new hitters, new ball parks and the DH, are slight at best.
“I think the more difficult challenge was facing teams in September,” he said. “Here, the rosters expand and you face guys you never heard about. Going forward, I shouldn’t have much of a problem. I’ve always watched a great deal of video and I’ll watch video here. Besides, I’m throwing to one of the best catchers (Salvador Perez) in the majors, so he should help out.”
While the 31-year-old native of Huntington Beach, Calif. sports a career 75-68 record and lifetime 3.98 ERA with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Padres, his numbers with San Diego in recent years are not telling. For the time he was traded from Arizona to San Diego, Kennedy compiled a 26-30 record, and an ERA of 3.97 in 73 starts for the Padres. From a production vantage, Kennedy’s best years were in the desert. In nearly four seasons with the Diamondbacks, Kennedy went 48-34 and 3.82 for 119 starts, including 21-4 (2.88 ERA) in the 2011 championship season.
“There will be a few adjustments, but nothing out of the ordinary,” said Ned Yost, the Royals manager on Sunday. “Ian has been able to execute his pitchers over the years, and that’s his game. He’ll be just fine.”
Kennedy’s movement to American League hitters and the DH seems a minor issue to his transition into the Royals’ values. Having bought into the team-first concept back in his days with the Diamondbacks, that could serve as a powerful lesson for both Kennedy and his former Arizona teammates.
While clubs carry great expectations, Kennedy pointed out, talent alone does not bring titles. It’s the organization which puts the team-first concept forward, and has all personnel buy into that vital component. Aside from glorified numbers and charged egos, the feature of unselfishness helps evolve a team from contenders on paper to a championship team between the white lines.