Prior to this season, fifth-year senior Tony Kennedy had made 65 starts and all but one of them had been split between second and third base. The other start was as the team's designated hitter. This season he has made a switch to the outfield. It took him a while to get used to the nuances that come with the position and he took some grief from his teammates at first, but he is willing to do what it takes to help the team win.
That was what was so tough for him last week when he was tearing it up at the plate. In the four games at Northwestern he batted .647 with 11 hits and eight runs scored. Obviously, he was thrilled with his individual effort but was disappointing to come away with a split. He had an incredible April, going 30-for-79 (.379) with 19 runs scored. In six games last week, he raised his average from .306 (seventh on the team) going into the midweek doubleheader vs. Akron April 23 to .356 (fourth on the team) after the four games at Northwestern.
Now, the team heads to first-place Michigan for a four-game series struggling a bit, just a game above .500 and a fourth-place slot behind the Wolverines, Purdue and Illinois. Just a half game out of third, the Buckeyes have just a half-game lead ahead of Penn State and Northwestern for the final of six spots in this year's Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes have won two of the last three and four of the last six conference tournament titles, including last year in Ann Arbor.
Kennedy, who graduated from Bloomington (Ind.) South High School, chose Ohio State partly because of its success on the baseball diamond. The Buckeyes have been the most successful team in the Big Ten under head coach Bob Todd and set the league record for conference wins at 25. Michigan is on pace to break the record but rather than try to worry about what Michigan can accomplish, the part-time disc jockey is more worried about getting his young Buckeye teammates concentrate on their own game. If everything could come together this weekend, it would be sweet music in the ears of Buckeye fans.
B9: You had quite a weekend last weekend, batting .647 with 11 hits and eight runs scored? You're a monster. What's the deal?
TK: "Last weekend was bittersweet. I saw the ball pretty well with us getting to face a pitching staff dominated by lefties from Northwestern, but we were only able to win two out of four games. I was able to get the pitches I wanted to hit and was fortunate to get a few hits to fall in for me with the wind blowing like crazy all weekend. I hope to continue it this weekend against our rivals, Michigan."
B9: Why do you think you are having success at the plate?
TK: "Lately I have been able to relax at the plate and get in a groove. Sometimes as a hitter you just have weeks where the pitcher ends up throwing the pitch you're looking for and are able to keep a consistent approach at the plate, giving you a good chance to get a hit. Those are the times as a hitter you hope to get as many at bats as you can, so you can take advantage of the recent confidence you've developed at the plate."
B9: You were a veteran infielder now roaming the outfield. Talk about the adjustment?
TK: "The adjustment was a little crazy at first because I was not familiar with any of the nuances of playing outfield, but I initially took an aggressive, open-minded approach to learning outfield and I think that has helped me a lot in the long run. In general, the position switch has given me a fresh new outlook on the game, which has allowed me to relax and really enjoy my last year at Ohio State."
B9: Did you take much grief from your teammates about moving out there?
TK: "Yea, there have been times where I have looked like a fish out of water out there, but the grief they give me is all in jest since they realize how difficult the switch can be. They're so used to me being at different positions on the infield the past couple years that I still don't think they're used to seeing me out there. The most difficult obstacle to overcome has been allowing myself to not get caught up in expectations and instead just be aggressive and focus on playing the game."
B9: What is the mindset of the team as it prepares for the Michigan series? They seem to have Ohio State's number lately?
TK: "Our mindset is and has always been to focus on playing our game regardless of who we are playing. The rivalry with Michigan has always added a little emotion to the game, but we feel like as a team no matter who we are playing as long as we concentrate on playing all phases of the game well, we should be successful. Since I have been at Ohio State I cannot remember taking a regular season series from Michigan, so as a fifth-year senior it will be important to do my best to change that while I still can."
B9: Michigan is on pace to obliterate OSU's record of 25 wins in conference play. They have 17 wins with 12 games remaining. Would you like a big weekend to help keep them from matching or surpassing that total?
TK: "Regardless of what records Michigan can accomplish for the whole Big Ten season, we need to come out and do our part this weekend. It's great that OSU still holds that record, but as long as we do our job on the field this weekend we should make it as hard as possible for Michigan to challenge the record."
B9: How do you keep the team focused down the stretch?
TK: "Especially with our team being as young as it is, it will be a continuing challenge to maintain consistency down the stretch. A lot of the younger guys are not used to playing this many games and going through the demanding Big Ten weekly schedule, so it will be important for the seniors especially to help everyone stay focused on playing one game at a time. As a whole, the schedule can be tough mentally, but as long as we take it one game and week at a time, keeping a consistent approach should be an attainable goal."
B9: Is the lack of power a concern?
TK: "I wouldn't call it a concern, its just part of our team's makeup. A lot of us have gap-to-gap, line-drive type swings that aren't tailored to hit the ball out of the park. We rely mostly on our ability to find holes through the infield and utilize our team speed. With that being said, it can be hard to come from behind when a team lacks power, but we know that and try to make up for it by getting leads early."
B9: Who is faster on the team, you or J.B. Shuck?
TK: "We have similar speed and have never raced one on one before. Contrary to what was earlier reported, I'm willing to race him to find out though."
B9: How did a guy from Bloomington, Ind., end up at Ohio State?
TK: "A lot of the influence came from Ohio State being one of the best baseball programs in the Midwest. I come from a Big Ten background having lived in both Champaign, Ill. (University of Illinois) and Bloomington, Ind. (Indiana University), so the campus was a good fit for me. Combine that with a lot of family living in Columbus, Ohio, most notably my Grandpa who has always been a big influence, and it ended up being a great fit for me athletically, academically and logistically."
B9: Do you still DJ?
TK: "I tried my best to DJ as much as my schedule would allow this fall and winter. I really enjoy being able to play music I like for my friends and be able to watch them have fun, which is why DJ-ing has always been fun for me. Unfortunately between school work and baseball I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to pursue it, so it remains a fun hobby of mine that I do on the side occasionally."
B9: What is your DJ nickname?
TK: "I've always been known as the Great White DJ (GWDJ). Ever since 4th grade, yes it actually began that early, I have been known by my close friends as the person to go to for new music. One thing I cannot stand is the way the radio overplays songs to a point where a song gets annoying. Ever since I developed that pet peeve I've always tried my very best to stay ahead of radio when it comes to discovering music."
Photo courtesy of Megan Levins' Facebook page.