Mickey Welsh of the Montgomery Advertiser
Faulkner's Sergio Sanchez (8) welcomes Forest Park’s Antonio Kendrick (47) home as he scores against Indiana Tech at the NAIA National Championship opening round tournament.
FOREST PARK — Antonio Kendrick’s college experience taught him more than just what he learned from his criminal justice major.
He learned resilience.
The lesson paid off recently as the Faulkner University baseball team won the NAIA National Championship, the schools first, by defeating Lewis-Clark State 11-4 back in late May.
Kendrick, a Forest Park native and former baseball standout at Forest Park High, wasn’t just a name on the roster either.
The senior outfielder hit .368 in the final series, along with stealing two bases and scoring five runs. He came up with key plays in the best of three clincher, including a three-run homer in the series’ first game that helped turn a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 victory.
Kendrick, who was the only Faulkner player on the team to have played all four years at the school, said that the sometimes difficult road to the title was worth it.
“It was a great feeling,” Kendrick said. “We worked so hard from August to December. We put in all the hard work from January until June. All of the early morning practices, late afternoon practices, practicing in the rain — it all paid off in the end.”
Kendrick’s success was a testimony to the coach’s mantra which tells athletes to be ready at a moment’s notice, even if they aren’t always counted in the starting lineup.
Kendrick’s role in the championship series increased when Faulkner centerfielder Brook Boudreaux was injured after running into an outfield wall.
He said he depended on his preparedness from years of playing little league and high school ball, as well as a little divine intervention, to give him confidence to excel in such a crucial moment.
“When coach told me I was in, I went out to the outfield and asked God for His guidance,” Kendrick said. “He guided me through the region final and through the final games. A lot of guys were telling me that if it wasn’t for me we wouldn’t have won the series.”
Kendrick finished the season with a .328 batting average for the 56-11 Eagles. He scored 72 runs, recorded 54 stolen bases and knocked two home runs along with 12 RBI.
For his feats in the championship series, Kendrick took home the Charles Berry Hustle Award. It was just another feather in his cap that culminates what he calls a “great college experience.”
But he also spoke highly of his time at Forest Park for what it did to groom him for where his most recent accomplishment.
“Growing up in Forest Park, playing on what I think was one of the best little league teams in Georgia prepared me for where I am now,” he said. “My cousins and dad stayed on us pretty much all the time. We played pretty hard, practiced every day even on rocks.”
And despite his small stature —Kendrick stands 5-foot-9 —he’s grown accustomed over his career to making big plays.
“When I got to high school, I was a freshman starting on varsity,” he said. “I was really the only small guy out there, so I was nervous and scared and didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Things have turned out well for him though. Now, with graduation looming for next May, Kendrick has grown so accustomed to overcoming obstacles that he’s confident he’ll be able to extend his playing career.
Obstacles — height or otherwise — don’t bother him anymore.
“I’ve gotten used to everything now, and Forest Park helped me,” he said. “I want to play ball. If someone doesn’t pick me up in free agency, I’ll play independent ball. If not I’ll come back home and find a job.”