By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
CHILLICOTHE — When surgery seemingly cut his collegiate baseball career at Bowling Green State University short, Zach Kendall thought he’d never pitch again.
Turns it, it simply put him on a different path — one that led to him becoming an all-star.
Kendall, a 2014 Troy High School graduate, was a redshirt sophomore at Bowling Green when Tommy John surgery appeared to end his pitching career. Instead, though, he has found himself now pitching at the University of Rio Grande — with an assist from younger brother and fellow Troy grad Austin Kendall — as well as pitching for the Chillicothe Paints of the Prospect League, where he not only was recently named an all-star but also earned the victory in the league’s annual All-Star Game.
“It’s been a blessing, honestly,” Kendall said of his second chance. “I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. (Having surgery) was tough, but I’m having more fun pitching where I am now than I ever have before.”
After a stellar high school career with the Trojans, Kendall redshirted his freshman year at Bowling Green. During his sophomore year, he pitched in nine games, four of them starts, with a 3.86 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings of work. In April of 2016, though, a UCL tear forced him to have Tommy John surgery, and he thought he would not pitch competitively again.
“That (was tough),” Kendall said. “I was still at BG, and they had me starting and coming out of the bullpen. I was getting used quite a bit, and in a game against Michigan I came out of the bullpen. My elbow had honestly been hurting a bit, but I felt pretty good that day. And then it just popped.”
Kendall spent the next year rehabbing after the surgery but then chose to focus on school the following year, graduating with a degree in sports management. And that’s when, while his younger brother was making his college decision, he got an unexpected second chance.
“My brother Austin was being recruited by Rio Grande, and they mentioned they needed pitching, too. My dad was like, ‘well, my other son is a pitcher and has some eligibility left,’” Kendall said. “So yeah, suddenly I was pitching at Rio Grande. And I had a great year there, too. It’s honestly the most fun I’ve had playing baseball.
“Once you’re past high school, everything kind of feels like a job. But pitching at Rio Grande made pitching fun again.”
In his junior season at Rio Grande, Kendall started 16 games, going 6-5 with a 3.89 ERA, striking out 106 and walking 36 in 90 1-3 innings of work.
And, according to Kendall, the rehab process helped prepare him for some unexpected challenges.
“The rehab process was tough. It was basically learning how to throw all over again,” Kendall said. “Starting from scratch like that was rough, but once you get through it you can just pitch again.
“I thought, going from an NCAA Division I school to an NAIA one, it’d be easy. But pitching at Rio Grande, I have faced hitters that are just as good if not better than what I saw in D-I. And honestly? It’s helped me a lot. Instead of just relying on overpowering everyone, I’ve had to re-learn how to pitch, how to hit spots and work counts and things like that. And that has really helped me with the Paints.”
That’s because Kendall earned a chance to pitch for the Chillicothe Paints of the Prospect League — a 12-team collegiate summer league.
For the Paints this season, Kendall is 3-0 in eight starts with 42 strikeouts, 18 walks and a 2.55 ERA in 42 1-3 innings of work. The team has won seven of his eight starts — the last seven straight, in fact — with the last one being on June 25 against Champion City. In that game, two days after his All-Star Game effort, Kendall got a no-decision in a 9-5 victory.
Kendall also joined four of his teammates — Nate Haugh, Cole Andrews, Cody Orr and Gavin Homer — in the Prospect League’s annual All-Star game, played on July 23. In the game, Kendall pitched two innings for the East to get credit for the win, striking out three and walking two. The East All-Stars knocked off the West 11-2.
“I came to this league this summer, and now I’m facing guys that are going to LSU and Indiana and other big D-I schools. It’s really tough, but it’s where I want to be. It’s what I’ve worked my whole life for,” Kendall said. “Pitching at Rio Grande definitely helped prepare me for this. And all the players in the league are so good. I’ve got a defense behind me that I never have to worry about, a lineup that can put up a lot of runs to support me. It is really nice playing at this level, and pitching in that All-Star Game just felt awesome.”
Currently, the Paints are 33-18 and sit in second in the Prospect League’s East Division, 1.5 games behind the Danville Dans. Their next game was Monday night against Champion City.
And now, the future is brighter than ever for Kendall. Once this Prospect League season is over, he will go back to Rio Grande for his senior season — where he will get to play alongside brother Austin, who will be a freshman.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to play with my brother,” Kendall said.
From there? Kendall doesn’t know where his second chance will take him. He just knows that he wants baseball to be involved in it as long as it can.
“I’d definitely love to get drafted, or signed, or anything,” he said. “I just want to play baseball for as long as I can. If that doesn’t work out, I’d love to work up to being a high school athletic director or college coach. That’s what I’d love to do. But I definitely want to keep playing baseball.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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