Kendall learned way to play game from dad
Ex-Major Leaguer Fred played tough, had fun
KANSAS CITY--The rules were simple: You miss a ground ball, you we're done playing.
Day after day, Royals catcher Jason Kendall would take ground ball after ground ball after ground ball in the backyard of his California home from his father, Fred.
"Jason would keep us out there for hours," Fred said. "His concentration was unbelievable. He knew that if he missed it, then the game was over. You miss one, and we're done -- that was the rule."
This simple game between father and son would pave the way for an illustrious 15-year career that has included three All-Star selections.
Fred played catcher for 12 seasons at the Major League level with three different teams. He was respected around the league and went on to coach for a few seasons.
For some, being in the shadow of his father's legacy would be a burden. But not for Jason, who welcomed the comparison.
"When I first started playing, everyone was kind of like, 'Hey, do you ever get sick and tired of hearing your dad's name?'" Jason said. "Heck, no. I was very fortunate growing up. I had a father who played in the big leagues. I took advantage of it and I still take advantage of it."
Jason was only six years old when his father got out of the big leagues but he still vividly remembers hanging around the clubhouse and watching his father play. Although, during his father's games, Jason was always more concerned with playing baseball than watching it.
"I remember going to the stadium and hearing my dad's name on the loudspeaker," Jason recalled with a smile. "I was with all the other kids throwing baseballs around or playing baseball on the concourse. It was really cool. When my dad would bat, I'd always run over and watch, but other than that, I was playing ball." Jason portrays a certain toughness and confidence, both on and off the field, that he says he learned from watching his father play.
As Jason recalls, baseball was a much different game back when his dad played.
"My dad taught me how to play the game the right way," Jason said. "There wasn't the money there is now back when my dad played. My dad came home and worked three construction jobs in the offseason. My dad had that hard-nosed attitude. You play every day as hard as you can, because you never know when it's going to be your last."
As Jason's career progressed through high school and eventually to the Major Leagues, Fred could have lectured Jason on what to do and what not to do in the Majors. He could have been in his ear before and after every game, imparting the wisdom he amassed over his 12-year career. But Fred never did. He just wanted one thing for Jason.
"I just wanted him to have fun," Fred said. "There are a lot of parents out there who are always trying to give their kids tips during the game, but I just wanted him to have fun. That was the No. 1 goal of mine, was to have fun."
Throughout Jason's career, he has kept that rule first.
Jason has achieved the fame, the fortune and the success, but he always keeps that simple rule his parents taught him first.
"You have to have fun doing it," Jason said, "and I still do. It's probably because of what my mom and my dad taught me. As soon as I stop having fun, that's when I'm out."
Even today, Jason still has a close relationship with his father. As Jason said, his dad is always there.
"He knows my game inside out," Jason said. "Any time I'm scuffling, whether it be offensively, defensively -- he's the first person I call. This is a baseball family, so he knows everything about my game."
Fred believes that baseball, though just a game, can teach life lessons -- lessons he ultimately took with him through his fatherhood.
"Baseball creates a lot of challenges for you," Fred said. "I think baseball is probably one of the best sports there is. It's a game of failure, and you learn from failure.
"Nobody is perfect and you're going to fail at times, but it disciplines you to know that when you get back down, you get back up. That was our theory in raising the kids. You're gonna get knocked down, but it's about how well you get back up to face the challenges and baseball creates that for you."
Samuel Zuba is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.