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Original Issue

A catcher who's caught their fancy

Major league scouts have their eyes on Florida State's Terry Kennedy, a long-ball hitter with an arm like Bench's

Baseball has become all the rage at Florida State, which is quite a change for a school heretofore more renowned as the home of America's only college circus and as the self-professed birthplace of streaking. The Seminole fans' new fervor is entirely understandable. Florida State can hit. It has virtually the same lineup this year that scored more than eight runs a game in 1976 when it had a 40-16 record. And after a recent two-game series against Jacksonville, which had eliminated FSU from the NCAA regional a year ago, Coach Woody Woodward's worries about his pitching were diminished. In the opener, Mike Bretz and Brooks Carey beat the Dolphins 12-1. The next day Larry Jones, who is the winningest pitcher in Florida State history with 31 victories, and Reliever Jackie Smith combined for a 4-0 two-hitter.

Yet as good as the other Seminoles are, the loudest cheers—and the closest scrutiny by the dozens of major league scouts who regularly attend all FSU games—are reserved for junior Catcher Terry Kennedy. The youngest of Chicago Cub General Manager Bob Kennedy's five children, Terry chose Florida State over the more prestigious baseball schools near his home in Mesa, Ariz. Since arriving in Tallahassee, he has ripened like an orange in the Florida sun. In the first Jacksonville game he went 3 for 4, drove in four runs and hit a two-run homer 380 feet against the wind. In the second game he walked twice, homered to right center and threw out the only runner who tried to steal on him.

"He bats left, hits with great power to all fields, throws well and has really improved his catching," says the Major League Scouting Bureau's Bob Reason-over, who reports to 21 clubs on players in north Florida. "He's very close to being ready to catch in the big leagues." Jacksonville Coach Jack Lamabe, who pitched seven years in the majors, says, "He has quick hands and a quick release, like Munson and Bench. Once, against us, the ball looked like it got stuck in his glove for a second, but he still threw out one of my fastest men."

Neither Reasonover nor Lamabe expressed concern that Kennedy had allowed two runners to advance on a passed ball, but Kennedy was a bit rueful. "The toughest thing about catching is the receiving—learning not to fight the pitch," he said. "The throwing has always come easy." With that, he rolled some tape into a ball, threw it gently at a teammate and hit him between the eyes.

"He needs to catch every day and handle good pitchers," says Woodward, the 34-year-old former Cincinnati Reds shortstop who looks young enough to play for Florida State himself. "He's a perfectionist. I don't want to destroy his intense drive, but he has to learn that he can't have a good game every day. He'll find that out when he starts playing every day in the pros."

Chances are, that process will begin in June when Kennedy reports to a major league farm club after being selected early in the draft. Hard-hitting catchers are rare, and no one is too worried about Kennedy's defense. After all, he has been catching for only two years; in fact, in the last two seasons Kennedy caught only half of FSU's games, playing the outfield or being the DH in the rest.

Kennedy began learning about baseball at age 4, but he didn't play competitively until he was 12, or ambitiously until he was 14. He inherited a strong arm from his father, a third baseman-outfielder for most of his 19-year major league career. The elder Kennedy also taught his son how to hit. "One thing I feel happy about is that Terry has good knowledge when he's at the plate," says Bob Kennedy. "He's a fan and a student of Ted Williams."

At bat, Kennedy has an upright stance and a short, compact swing with a slight uppercut. He also has a very discerning eye, and will not so much as move the bat if a pitch is an inch or two off the plate. Last year he struck out just 39 times in 195 at bats, a low percentage for a power hitter. When he doesn't get his home run pitch, Kennedy improves his batting average by spraying the ball, a tactic suggested by Williams. "Ted came to Florida State once," Woodward recalls. "He told the kids he pulled the ball because he was paid to hit homers, but that if he had wanted to hit for an even higher average, he would have hit to left and through the middle."

Kennedy's favorite player was another Williams, ex-Cub Billy, a line-drive spray hitter with a picturesque swing. Terry's chief instructor, though, was his father, who made him take 100 to 150 swings a day and taught him to think ahead on defense and think with discipline at the plate.

Still, young Kennedy was no hotshot his first two seasons at St. Mary's High in Mesa. But he grew about four inches between his junior and senior years, and suddenly he was a 6'3", 220-pound senior with a .375 batting average, three home runs—and a few college offers. "My father coached Woody at Atlanta in 1967 and knew him well," Kennedy says. "He felt that FSU would be a good place to go if I wanted to get away from home, and that Woody was a man who could help teach me about catching."

"At first he couldn't get down in a crouch," says Woodward, "so we put him on a stretching and running program with the track coach." As a freshman, Kennedy hit .343 and had a .537 slugging percentage but missed the College World Series because of mononucleosis. Last season, he hit .364 and had a phenomenal .810 slugging percentage, 21 homers and 64 runs batted in for a 56-game schedule. One home run traveled 475 feet and landed in the adjacent circus grounds. After a game in which Kennedy had two homers, an Oakland scout proclaimed, "I'd pay $50,000 to have him right now." Kennedy never spoke with the man but says, "I'd know him. He'd be carrying a pad, and he'd be clean-cut. All those scouts look like golfers."

Kennedy finished the season as the Sporting News' first-team All-America catcher, but scouts still sensed that they had not seen all he could do. Occasionally sluggish, he developed pharyngitis late in the season and had his tonsils removed over the summer. Now he is completely healthy for the first time in his college career.

Kennedy also has a healthy outlook on life. "I love everything about this school," he says. "In Arizona, people are more concerned about money. Here everyone's your friend. Tallahassee's a very Southern town—they joke about it being the poor part of Georgia.

"I started out majoring in English and journalism, then I switched to business. It seemed more relevant. Now I'm not sure I like it, because of all the paperwork. I don't think I'd want my father's job—too many hassles. And I don't want to be drafted by the Cubs. My brother Bob played in the Cardinal organization when my father was director of player development for the team. Nobody ever said anything to Bob, but he knew people were talking about him. I just want to make it to the big leagues and wind up with financial security. I guess that's what everybody wants."

After the first five games this season, Kennedy was hitting .312, with five RBIs and three homers, and the Seminoles had a 3-2 record. When asked about his chances of breaking the major-college single-season home-run record of 23, set last year by Wyoming's Bill Ewing in 52 games, he says, "People really like homers, don't they? But home runs are just long fly balls. I'm more interested in RBIs. They're a team statistic."

His mother-agent Claire is familiar with this outlook. "When he calls, he just tells us who won and how the pitcher did," she says. "We have to ask him, 'Did you play, Terry?' But we try to stay in the background. We allowed him to go away. We wanted him to have enough confidence to work on his own. We just hope he stays Terry."

So do the scouts, Claire, so do the scouts.