The competitor in Mike Kennedy shone through in something other than baseball last summer.
Well, kind of. Baseball was at the heart of it.
The Elon University baseball coach entering his 19th year at the helm underwent surgery on his right hip last June that held him back during summer.
Or at least it should have.
Kennedy had the surgery June 9, was off crutches by July and was throwing by August. The surgery typically requires a 9-12 month recovery period, toward which Kennedy said he’s working.
“It’s amazing — you’re walking the next day after you have [surgery],” Kennedy said. “The biggest thing is that [the hip] is weak. It’s not strong. I don’t have any pain, it’s just not strong enough.”
But Kennedy’s itch to compete and win had him striving for the field far earlier than he would’ve imagined.
Kennedy said he shed the crutches within two or three weeks and was throwing batting practice by the second month, three months earlier than instructed.
“I probably shouldn’t have, but I have,” he said. “That’s our competitive nature. How do you coach a team if you can’t be out here doing stuff with them? Someone has to throw BP, it might as well be me.”
It’s that kind of mindset that’s helped the Phoenix to success under Kennedy, including four Southern Conference regular season championships, two SoCon Tournament titles, six NCAA Division I Regional appearances and more than 600 victories.
Elon is coming off a 27-26 campaign in 2014, the first year the Phoenix didn’t win at least 30 games since becoming a Division I program in 1999. A frustrating loss to No. 10 seed The Citadel in the opening round of the SoCon Tournament prompted some self-evaluation, Kennedy said.
Something needed to change — something needed to be done to get the Phoenix back on the winning track. Kennedy’s experience through his surgery illustrated the blueprint he’s had in place since he arrived at Elon: Breed a competitive culture that focuses more on building a successful team than on a talented individual.
Kennedy wants players focused on the team rather than their own problems on the field. It’s shown in his interactions.
“He hasn’t really said much [about the surgery],” said sophomore utility player Nick Zammarelli. “He’s always on the mound throwing to us.”
In hindsight, Kennedy realizes he probably should’ve taken things a bit slower. But it’s understandable he wanted to progress like a fastball rather than a changeup.
“I had a few setbacks, did some things too early I shouldn’t have done,” Kennedy said. “In the end, it’s all good.”
When Elon opens its season against Penn State University Feb. 13, Kennedy will be there, acting like he never had surgery. Because, like a competitor, he’s focused on what’s at stake now.