Gary Kendall on AFL championship: “The Orioles made a statement that day”

It was a week ago today that the Surprise Saguaros charged the mound to celebrate their Arizona Fall League championship. It was a championship won with a big Oriole flavor. The Surprise team was managed by Double-A Bowie skipper Gary Kendall. Short-season Single-A Aberdeen pitching coach Alan Mills was one of two pitching coaches on the team that also featured eight O’s prospects.

For the winning players and coaches, it was a wonderful baseball experience and they’ll get championship rings next year in spring training.

“It was one of those perfect stories where guys seemed to progress and get their work in and you win at the same time,” Kendall said. “It is rare that it happens. It’s the first championship team I’ve ever managed, I’ve been on a few as a coach. It was neat to see the Orioles guys get to run out there and celebrate.”

Kendall said his team showed togetherness and good chemistry while playing unselfish baseball. They had such a great team-first attitude that it almost surprised Kendall a bit.

“In a league where stats are important - because you are playing for a possible big league or Triple-A opportunity - it was just a very unique group and I saw that from our first meeting,” Kendall said. “I enjoyed coming to the park every day and putting guys in the lineup that had a big desire to get to the big leagues. We had good players with a solid work ethic and it was fun. I was impressed the way our guys went about their work.”

How the eight O’s players fared in the AFL:

* Henry Urrutia hit .377 with three homers, 15 RBIs and a .985 OPS.
* Dariel Alvarez hit .239 with no homers, nine RBIs and a .581 OPS.
* Jonathan Schoop hit .177 with three homers, six RBIs and a .594 OPS.
* Michael Ohlman hit .290 with four homers, nine RBIs and a 1.250 OPS.
* Eduardo Rodrigez went 0-1 with a 5.52 ERA.
* Tim Berry went 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA.
* Branden Kline went 1-1 with a 10.54 ERA.
* Jason Gurka went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA.

The Orioles imprint was all over the championship game when Surprise beat Mesa 2-0. Rodriguez pitched three shutout innings to get the win, Berry pitching out of a bases loaded jam and the two runs were scored by Schoop and Urrutia, who doubled twice.

Ohlman talked about the AFL experience.

“That team was amazing,” Ohlman said. “Some great guys and I’ll probably be best friends with some of those guys forever. That had a lot to do with our success, how well we all got along. Maybe we didn’t have the most “prospects,” but everyone contributed. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in baseball.”

Berry was raving about his time in the AFL when I spoke with him earlier this week.

“It was the best six weeks of my baseball career so far,” Berry said. “Good players around you, everyone on the field can play in the big leagues. The coaching staff was very knowledgeable. Put all that together and we had the best team in the league, you can guess at how fun that was. I knew about halfway through we were the best team there and we could do it. There is nothing like running out there and dogpiling on the mound with those guys.”

Kendall said it was so meaningful to him to win the championship wearing the Orange and Black Orioles’ colors.

“Probably the greatest thing about that championship was the Orioles made a statement that day,” Kendall said. “Not just with Eduardo Rodriguez. You saw Tim Berry with his back against the wall. You saw Jon Schoop turn on a good fastball and pull it in the hole. We saw Urrutia dead center a ball 410 feet, and then hit another double 380, 390 to right center. It was just a great day for the organization.”

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