Former VHS star Kendrick signs with Pecos League team

Published 8:00 am Thursday, July 5, 2018

The first league Darius Kendrick latched onto this year folded before it played a game. The second gave him an opportunity, but was on shaky ground for a time.

Now, he’s hoping the third is just the right thing to help him further his dreams of playing professional baseball.

Kendrick, the former Vicksburg High star, has signed a contract with the White Sands Pupfish of the Pecos League. The Pupfish are based in White Sands, New Mexico, and are part of the league that includes 12 teams in six southwestern states from Texas to California.

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The Pecos League is not affiliated with Major League Baseball, but its level of competition is roughly equivalent to Single-A minor league ball.

“This is good that I’m moving forward. It’s another stepping stone and progress, and you just have to trust the process,” Kendrick said. “It’s good that this league is going to be stable, and that it’s been stable for the past 10 years. My goal is to go out there and hit .350 or better and see what happens, and leave it on the field.”

Kendrick’s year started with what seemed like a good opportunity. He was invited to play in the Desert League of Professional Baseball, a spring developmental league that had been around for several years and had a good track record.

A couple of weeks before he headed to Arizona to play there in January, the league canceled its season.

Kendrick quickly found another chance closer to home with the National Urban Professional Baseball League in Laurel. It is currently in its first season and has found its footing after issuing a statement in late June that it was struggling financially and might also have to fold.

Kendrick said he was thankful to the NUPBL for giving him a chance to play, but quickly realized he needed to quickly move on to the next level.

“The first one screwed me because I burned my last year of eligibility for college. This one, I get there and they wanted to make me a player-coach. A lot of guys didn’t have the baseball IQ so I found myself coaching more than I was practicing,” Kendrick said. “I did good, but I started slow. I didn’t have time to do my own thing instead of catching everybody else up and working on the level they should be on playing professional baseball.”

Kendrick played about 50 games in the NUPBL and had settled into a groove lately. He had an 11-game hitting streak and finished second to former Port Gibson High School star J.T. Hall — who had spent several years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization — in the league’s home run derby.

His hot streak coincided with a visit from John Guy, the director of operations for the Desert League. Guy worked as the public address announcer for the NUPBL on a day when Kendrick hit a home run and had a couple of other hits, and offered him another chance to head west.

“He was the voice of the baseball field the day I hit a home run. John Guy reached out to some of these guys for me, and I sent them some videos and some stats and I guess they liked what they saw. They told me they wanted me down there ASAP,” Kendrick said.

Late last week, that turned into an offer to play for the Pupfish. The team has been around since the Pecos League was founded in 2011. Kendrick, who plays in the outfield, will report there this weekend and play with the team until the season wraps up at the end of July.

It’ll be a brief stint, but an important one. Continuing to play will help him stay sharp and give him a chance to show he can perform against better competition.

“I don’t see many guys in this state that are outswinging me. Now I get a chance to go across the country and play,” Kendrick said. “It’s a little more talent. I was going to stay home and work on my 60 time, but we’ll give it 30 days and see what happens.”

Although he’s still a long way away from the majors, Kendrick hasn’t given up on his dream of getting there. He had a tryout last year with the Miami Marlins, who liked his power but not his speed. He’s been working since to improve that and get another shot, and hopes to earn an invitation to spring training in 2019 from them or another MLB club.

The 23-year-old knows the clock is ticking on that sort of opportunity. Most prospects are released by age 26 or 27 if they aren’t panning out.

“If I’m not signed with an (MLB) organization in two years, or if I’m not getting paid a decent amount, I’d much rather coach these guys and coach the game and give what I know to somebody else,” he said.

“These guys” were Reed Marberry and Jonathan Tadlock, two teenagers Kendrick has been giving private lessons to. They’re two of the roughly two dozen students that Kendrick said keep him motivated to keep grinding through the lower levels of professional baseball.

“There’s probably 20 of them around here. I’ve got to do it because somebody’s got to do it. I can’t go and try and push them to the next level if I don’t make it to the next level,” Kendrick said. “It’s the simple fact of, every league I transfer to is a step up. As long as I’m going in the right direction I can trust the process and get there. But the kids I train keep me motivated.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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