From Prince William, Va., to the home of The King, Adam Kennedy is enjoying a summer that could soon propel him into what qualifies as a palace to any player in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization--Busch Stadium.
In his second professional season, Kennedy, a two-time All-American shortstop at Cal State Northridge, is batting .336 for Memphis of the triple-A Pacific Coast League. He is proving he was worth the first-round pick the Cardinals used to draft him out of Northridge in 1997 and that he is as much of a prospect as the organization's more touted middle infielders.
Baseball America magazine listed three shortstops among the Cardinals' top 10 prospects before the season--and Kennedy wasn't among them.
That explains why he was sent to Class-A Prince William out of spring training and asked to play second base, despite finishing the 1997 season there, batting .312 and driving in 27 runs in 35 games.
But it couldn't explain the dejection he felt.
"It was pretty disappointing," Kennedy said. "The Cardinals have so many shortstops, they had to make some moves. But a couple of injuries here and there, and I've had some opportunities."
At Prince William, he played in the infield with shortstop Brett Butler, rated the Cardinals' sixth-best prospect. But because he is two years older than Butler, Kennedy, 22, was promoted to double-A when Arkansas shortstop Jason Woolf, the eighth-best prospect, was injured.
And he was back at shortstop, where he flourished at Northridge, earning All-American honors in 1996 and 1997 .
"It was tough because I hadn't played shortstop in a month, but I got comfortable after a while," he said. "I figured that when Woolf came back, they might send me back to Prince William. That was in the back of my mind."
But the day Woolf was activated, Kennedy saw on television that Cardinal shortstop Royce Clayton had been injured.
"Everybody knew something would happen," Kennedy said. "It had to affect somebody."
The Cardinals called up triple-A shortstop Luis Ordaz, the No. 10-rated prospect, and promoted Kennedy to replace him in Memphis.
Kennedy promptly went on a tear. Even though Ordaz has returned to Memphis, Kennedy remains in the lineup at second base because the Cardinals called up Placido Polanco from Memphis to replace injured Delino DeShields.
"It's weird replacing all these people because of injuries," Kennedy said. "It's not something you want to happen, but I'm learning that is how things happen. I'm trying to take advantage of the opportunities I'm getting."
He's doing it primarily by hitting well at every level. Kennedy last season led all Cardinal minor leaguers with a .326 average and is among PCL batting leaders.
"Mitchell Page, our hitting coach [in Memphis], is great," Kennedy said. "He got me going. I'm getting in a position to hit earlier and I feel comfortable."
But not too comfortable, not when he's worn three uniforms in three months.
"I would think I'd stay here the rest of the season and play second, but who knows?" he said.
He would be happy with one more change--a promotion to the Cardinals when rosters expand in September. That would complete a rise from Class-A to the major leagues in one season.
"All I can do is play the way I know how and leave that up to them," he said.
When the Milwaukee Brewers visited the Florida Marlins this week, it served as a reunion for Brewer infielder Mark Loretta and Marlin catcher Gregg Zaun, who were teammates at St. Francis High in the late 1980s.
A study of their careers illustrates how players can take different routes to the same destination.
Zaun, nephew of longtime big league catcher Rick Dempsey, was drafted out of St. Francis in 1989 by the Baltimore Orioles and toiled in the minors for seven years, working his way to the major leagues by midseason in 1995.
He was traded to the Marlins in 1996 and last season helped the team win the World Series by batting .301 in a backup role to Charles Johnson. With the trades of Johnson and Mike Piazza, it appeared Zaun, 27, would finally get an opportunity to be the starter, but he is batting only .168 and is playing part-time.
Loretta went to Northwestern after leaving St. Francis and was drafted by the Brewers in 1993 in the seventh round. His versatility and ability to hit for a high average vaulted him to the big leagues late in the 1995 season, only weeks after Zaun's major league debut.
Loretta usually finds himself in the lineup because he can play every infield position. Case in point: He played shortstop and first base in a game Wednesday.
And he can hit. Loretta, 26, is batting .320 and his career average is .290.
In the game Tuesday featuring the only two major league players from the Valley region from the same high school graduating class, Loretta and the Brewers got the edge. Loretta snapped a tie in the ninth with a run-scoring double, leading Milwaukee to a 6-4 victory.
Andy Skeels has landed on his feet and in the lineup of the Somerset, N.J., Patriots of the independent Atlantic League.
Fired as player-manager of the Bayou Bullfrogs three weeks ago for blowing the whistle on a litany of problems in the Texas-Louisiana League, Skeels (Thousand Oaks High, Oxnard College) hooked up with Somerset thanks to former New York Yankee left-hander Ron Guidry.
Guidry, pitching coach of the Bullfrogs, recommended Skeels to Sparky Lyle, his former Yankee teammate and the manager of the Patriots.
The Atlantic League isn't exactly the American League--like the Texas-Louisiana League, it's on the low-paying bottom rung of the professional baseball ladder.
But for Skeels, who is batting .316 while catching and serving as designated hitter, it's an opportunity to stay in the game. Unlike the Bullfrogs, he'll probably have more than 13 batting practice balls and the use of a bat that isn't cracked.