SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Six hundred wins is a big deal, right?
“It’s really not,” said Elon University baseball coach Mike Kennedy.
Kennedy won his 600th game April 12 when the Phoenix routed Wofford College 12-2. Currently in his 18th year at the helm, he’s had 16 winning seasons and advanced to the NCAA Tournament six times.
“I’m pretty happy I was able to be a part of it tonight,” junior pitcher John Antonelli said. “Hopefully it’s something he’ll remember forever.”
Kennedy took over as head coach for Elon in 1997 after serving as the pitching coach for four seasons, three of which the pitching staff ranked among the country’s 20 best NCAA Division II teams in terms of earned run average.
That work carried over all the way to 2009, when he was selected to be the pitching coach for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. The team posted a 2.16 earned run average that summer, winning the 2009 World Baseball Challenge title.
Kennedy played for Elon from 1988-1990 before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the ninth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. He said that’s the last time he’s actually won a game.
“The guys win games,” Kennedy said. “I think when I played here, I won maybe two or three with some big hits. Other than that, it’s been a long time since I’ve won a game.”
He helped guide Elon’s transition to the Division I ranks in 2000 without missing a beat. Prior to that, Kennedy led Elon to a South Atlantic Conference regular season title and a trip to the Regional Championship — in his first season on the job.
It’d be easy to say he’s helped Elon through good times and bad, but there’s surely been many more positives with Kennedy in the dugout. Fifteen seasons with 30 or more victories, five conference regular season titles and three conference tournament titles show the success he’s had and the legacy he’s built.
During the course of his tenure, there have been 35 Elon players who earned first-team all-conference honors, three freshman All-Americans and two academic All-Americans. He’s coached 48 players who have gone on to play professional baseball.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate to coach some really good players,” he said. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to be consistent. If I had to say anything about 600, I’m just really pleased this program has been really consistent in what we’ve done.”
Anticipating the milestone, Elon players planned a Powerade shower for Kennedy following the win over Wofford. Prior to the postgame huddle, a few players subtly dragged the cooler out to the field. Kennedy spotted them and made them put it down and come to the huddle.
After he finished speaking, Kennedy sprinted over and dumped the contents of the cooler out, preventing any celebration of that sort.
Elon first baseman Tyler McVicar acknowledged how big the victory was, but he said he knew Kennedy would shrug it off.
“He didn’t want to get covered after we won the conference tournament, so I figured he wouldn’t want to get covered after that,” McVicar said.
Senior Sebastian Gomez said when Kennedy won his 500th game in 2011, the team didn’t realize it until after the fact, so nothing was planned for him. Gomez marveled at how nonchalant Kennedy was about the accomplishment.
“He told us to take him out for a steak dinner,” Gomez said. “I’m like, ‘Come on coach, we don’t have that type of [money].’”
That’s who Kennedy is. He’s put his players first for the past 21 seasons at Elon, and the effects show on the field.
While he wasn’t drenched with Powerade, he’s soaked up the potential of countless baseball players at Elon. And that couldn’t be measured by wins, yet alone steak dinners. Congrats, Coach Kennedy.