Buddy Kennedy Had a Debut Weekend He Will Never Forget

Buddy Kennedy

Buddy Kennedy Had a Debut Weekend for the Ages

Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Buddy Kennedy made his major league debut Friday, June 17 against the Minnesota Twins at Chase Field in Phoenix. No major league player will ever forget his debut weekend, but for Kennedy, it was one that was almost out of a Disney movie.

On Friday, this reporter’s phone buzzed on the way to clubhouse hours with the notification that Kennedy had been called up and would DH that night. After talking to shortstop Nick Ahmed, whose shoulder surgery two days prior ended his 2022 season, the reporters all gathered around Kennedy’s locker. The grandson of 16-year major league infielder Don Money grinned ear to ear as the camera turned on and the tape recorders pointed towards him.

Kennedy handled the interview like a seasoned veteran, but the grin on his face reminded everyone that he is a 23-year-old kid who just loves baseball. He was a personification of the child in all of us, someone who had a dream from the time he was five. A dream that became a goal and, after years of hard work, became reality. Kennedy said pregame that to see this play out was “kind of crazy. I sat there and looked at all the years of baseball that I’ve had and everything to lead up to this day. All the coaches and everybody that’s helped me is amazing. I’m very thankful, very blessed, and going to enjoy every moment of it for sure.”

His day up to that point had been “amazing, kind of a blur.” He recounted, “I woke up today, did my normal morning routine. Have my family here, which I’m very happy about, then we went to the team store. Got some gear.”

The Buddy Kennedy Support Clan

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo smiled as he talked about Kennedy before the game. “Buddy deserves this moment. He’s worked hard and has been grinding through the minor leagues, never ever doubting the teaching and coaching that he’s received. And he’s improved every year and is ready for this opportunity. I know he’s excited. He’s got a ton of family members on their way here right now. We’re all excited for him. He’s a great story for this organization.”

During pregame batting practice, the VIP guests were gathered behind stanchions on the warning track behind home plate. On the end closest to the Diamondbacks dugout, there stood a woman with a beaming, proud look on her face. Only one woman on the planet could have been in that ballpark with that specific look on her face: Buddy’s mother, Shannon. The joy that emanated from her as this reporter introduced himself and shook her hand was so intense that it could be felt in the air. Next to her was Buddy’s father, Buddy Sr, who had the Proud Papa look on his face.

But they weren’t the only people there to support Buddy. His cousins, Shelby Money and Donald Money III, were to Buddy Sr’s right. They proudly introduced themselves as Buddy’s cousins and shared how excited they were to be there. After Donald introduced himself, another young woman who was behind them rapidly and excitedly exclaimed, “AND I’M BUDDY’S SISTER!” while jumping in place. Alexis was over the moon at what her brother had accomplished. The combined emotions from all of them were, like the joy from Shannon, the type that could be felt in the air. This was a special night already, but it was only getting started.

The Game

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Kennedy flied to center in his first at-bat. In his second, he walked and eventually scored. While he was on deck for his third at-bat, which came in the bottom of the fifth, field reporter and studio host Todd Walsh from Bally Sports Arizona interviewed Don Money in the grandstands. During the on-air interview, Daulton Varsho beat out a drag bunt toward first, bringing Kennedy to the plate. With a 1–1 count, Walsh asked Money, “What does this mean to this group of people here? He (Kennedy) was raving about all the sacrifices everybody made. But you’re all here. You all made it, and you’re enjoying this moment right here?”


Kennedy lined a single through the hole into right field, his first major league hit. Money had a huge grin as he clapped and said, “There ya go, Bud! Put that in the case! Put that in the case, Buddy! Hot dog it! I’ll be darned!” Money added with a grin, “It took him three at-bats to get his hit. It took me two!”

Later, while Kennedy was sitting in the dugout, Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom spoke to him. As Kennedy told it, Strom said, “I coached against your grandfather in the minor leagues.” Kennedy said, “Oh, really?” Strom replied, “Yeah.” He paused before saying, “Oh, yeah, he was on an interview when you got your base hit.” Kennedy said, “Cool” with a smile. After the game, when Lovullo found out that Kennedy’s hit came during Money’s interview, he said, “Life is timing. Sometimes guys have all the luck, right?”

“We Took Care of Him”

During postgame interviews, outfielder Jordan Luplow — who clubbed two homers in the game — replied, when asked if seeing a teammate get his first major league hit brings back good memories for him, “Yeah, it always does. It always brings you back to your first go-around and what happened with your first appearance or hit and whatnot. But for him to get it in the first game, that’s pretty cool. It doesn’t always happen like that.”

Luplow gave a sly smile when asked if the team had a celebration for Kennedy. “We took care of him. It was good.” Kennedy revealed what he got doused with. “Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, shaving cream, powder, water, and beer” when he got called up. “Today, beer and mouthwash. Very interesting smells. Wouldn’t recommend it.” Kennedy said he was happy he could help the team win. “It was a fun ballgame, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.”

Coach Comes to the Game

“Tomorrow” — Saturday, June 18 — brought more friends and family to see Kennedy. This included Roy Hallenbeck, Kennedy’s high school baseball coach. Hallenbeck coached at Millville Senior High School in Millville, New Jersey from 1999 to 2019. While there, he coached two future major leaguers. One was Kennedy. The other was a player you might have heard of: Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout.

Kennedy, prior to Friday’s game, told reporters the timeline of notifying his family of his call-up. After calling his parents and his grandfather, Kennedy casually said, “then I called my friend, Mike Trout. From the Angels,” as if there was another Mike Trout the reporters would know. He and Trout, who is seven years his senior, have been good friends since 2012.

Kennedy said his friend was “super excited for me, because there was a time last year, specifically, I felt like crap and didn’t want to go work out at his house. And he got on me. He was like, ‘You want to make in The Show? You don’t take days off.’ And he brought that moment up the other night. He’s like, ‘I told you it would pay off. You’ve just gotta trust. I’ve done it — I’ve done things.’ And he was like, ‘You want to get there, you gotta work.’ And yeah, just having him be so happy for me and (having) his family be so happy for me is pretty special.”

Receiving the News and Making the Game

Kennedy also told Coach Hallenbeck the news via phone. “I didn’t see the call,” Hallenbeck smiled and admitted. “I just saw that I had a missed call. He never calls. We never call each other — we text. So I knew something either was really wrong or really good. So I called him back and said, ‘Hey, man, did you mean to just call me?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I did, Coach.’ I said, ‘You’d better tell me right now.’ So he was thrilled — so happy and excited. He was going a mile a minute, getting ready to take care of details and everything. But because you get close to the family and knowing how much they put in and knowing what he’s put in, it was a deep breath moment. I got off the phone and said, ‘Wow. He’s gonna make it.’”

Receiving the news about Kennedy was a little bit different for Hallenbeck than it was when Trout made the bigs. He recalled, “With Mike, it was a brand-new experience for all of us. We woke up to a 3 am text from Mike because of the time (difference). So it was a little bit different. We didn’t know what we were doing. Me and my assistant coaches jumped on an airplane as quick as we could and got out there for his second game.”

“When’s This Gonna Happen?”

“Mikey came up as a first-round draft pick,” Hallenbeck continued, “and he was in their system — he was really flying through their system. So when he came up, it was this anticipated thing. Buddy took a different path. He didn’t really start to accelerate until within the last year. And that’s when (we thought), ‘Wow, okay, he’s really starting to take off.’ We could read the handwriting on the wall. He’s done everything he needs to do, is playing well in Triple-A, now it’s just a matter of time. So it was a little less of a surprise. It was just like, ‘Okay, when’s this gonna happen?’

“He had a little bit longer path, and COVID didn’t help. We were afraid that that was really going to, with his age, would almost make that difficult because he missed years in that prime age of development. So the fact that he accelerated so quickly after that was really great. It’s unbelievable.

Hallenbeck, who had been working in Phoenix for USA Baseball, just so happened to be in town for a clinic. “By blind luck, I was going to be here anyway,” he said. His two assistants from Kennedy’s Millville days “flew in special to see (him), but just got lucky with the timing of it. Had it been any other week, it would have been difficult to see.”

Game Two: Buddy Kennedy Gets Two More Milestones

The second game didn’t go as well for the team, since they got trounced, 11–1, but Kennedy had two more milestones. One was the first time playing the field, as he was the second baseman. This, of course, meant that he fell for the old rookie trick. He led the team on the field, only for them to all stop on the top step of the dugout as he ran out all by himself. The second milestone came in the bottom of the fifth. His team was already down, 9–0, to Dylan Bundy and the Twins. On a 1–2 count, Kennedy smoked a rocket to deep left-center. It one-hopped the wall, caroming toward the “413” sign. He hustled all the way to third for his first major league extra-base hit: a triple. Two batters later, Carson Kelly drove him in with a deep sacrifice fly to center.

Kennedy described his at-bat after the game. “I was trying to sit fastball. Saw loopy curveballs he was throwing to the other guys. I didn’t see that in that at-bat. Saw more sliders and then swung and missed one out there. Then I saw a good fastball, put a good barrel on it. I hit it and saw that (Gilberto Celestino, the center fielder) wasn’t even at it yet when I was halfway to second. So I thought, ‘Alright, step over, let’s go!’ It was pretty cool to get everyone on the board and at least help us out.” When he came in the dugout, Alek Thomas said, “You have more triples in the show.” Kennedy said that was “good” and it was “funny” to hear that from Thomas.

Buddy Kennedy and His Friendship with Mike Trout

Buddy’s appearance as team captain; Coach Hallenbeck explains the highest honor at Millville Sr. High. Buddy’s appearance runs until the 39:19 mark. Kennedy’s first appearance in the film comes at the 36:23 mark; he is on the far right.

When Kennedy was a senior, he received Millville High School baseball’s highest honor. The team, which plays on Mike Trout Field, has not retired Mike Trout’s number (1). Instead, they give #1 to the team captain(s). As shown in the 2017 episode of MLB Presents, “Mike Trout: Millville to MVP,” Kennedy was one of three chosen in the spring of 2017 to wear the prestigious #1.

During the film, Kennedy mentioned that he and Trout worked out at the same gym during baseball’s offseason. This was something that started, as Kennedy told reporters before his debut game, in 2012. They have continued working out together to this day and have become close friends in the process. Friends this close are able to be blunt with one another like Trout was with Kennedy this past winter. Kennedy went into more detail about that event. “It snowed in Jersey. Roads were covered. I was thinking (said in a whine), ‘Ehhhh…I don’t want to drive.’ He calls me and says, ‘What are you doing? Let’s go!’ I said, ‘The roads are bad.’ He said, ‘I don’t care if the roads are bad. You gotta make it! Let’s go!’”

“He Knows What I’m Capable Of”

Kennedy drove over, arriving 15 minutes later. He said Trout basically told him, “Get over here. I’m gonna come pick you up.” Kennedy added, “He knows what I’m capable of and knows I can definitely be here. (I can) help the team — whatever they need. He had that faith in me. It was fun and games, and now it’s pretty cool.”

Kennedy said that his friendship with Trout has made it “surreal how other people look at him as the best player in baseball, and I look at him as Good Ol’ Mike. He’s a funny dude, loves to chill, loves to relax, hunts. To have him is very special, just for advice, for baseball. And just to go talk to someone that did it, has been through it, and hear his experiences.”

Buddy Kennedy the Teammate

Jake Hager, five years Kennedy’s senior, met him in minor league minicamp back in February, before spring training began. The two hit it off immediately. “Right away,” Hager said with a smile, “I had this connection with Buddy energy-wise. He was smiling, had good energy. I wanted to be around him and help him out.

“Right away, he started picking my brain, asking questions about my career and stuff like that. I was giving him advice. He asked certain questions about infielding stuff, and I took him under my wing and wanted to help him out. When he had come up for big-league games, he always sat next to me and kept asking questions. It was awesome.”

Hager grinned like a proud relative as he continued, “When he got called up, I was beyond excited. Actually, I was even more excited when he made the jump to Triple-A. I got to be with him in Triple-A. It was pretty awesome. He didn’t expect that; he thought he was going to be back in Double-A.”

“You’re Gonna Have to Be My Dad Again”

Ever since they started playing together, Hager tried to do everything he could to help Kennedy out. On the field before games, Hager could (while he was in the majors) often be found going through infield drills with him. They’d often be out there with Christian Walker at first, Hager at either third or shortstop, and Kennedy at second. Infield coach Tony Perezchica hit grounders. Hager played shortstop for Kennedy to work on his feeds to second on potential double play balls. Later, Hager fielded at third base with Kennedy practicing double play turns at second.

“He wants to learn,” Hager said, “wants to do better. I think he’s a great player, and he’s only going to get better. Right away, first thing, he came up to me and said, ‘I need to be better; I need you to be my dad again.’”

Hager learned about Kennedy’s call-up when he arrived at the clubhouse prior to Kennedy’s debut game. “I saw the lineup and waited, let him soak it all in. Once he got here, I gave him a big hug. I was beyond excited for him.”

Alek Thomas

Alek Thomas, drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2018, has been on the same team as Buddy Kennedy almost his entire time in professional baseball. Not part of the same system — on the same team. Thomas and Kennedy have become close friends, as have their girlfriends. “He’s a joy to be around,” Thomas said. “I’m always cracking jokes with him…. He’s great. Great teammate.”

Thomas heard about Kennedy’s call-up from his girlfriend. “She told me, and I said, ‘No way!’” Thomas received the same honor from Kennedy as Coach Hallenbeck, and like Coach Hallenbeck, “I missed it,” Thomas admitted. “Then I called him back.”

Thomas paused here, since Kennedy walked by him and this reporter and gave the two a sly smile, indicating that he knew Thomas was talking about him.

After Kennedy walked away, Thomas continued, “And he had no idea how to act. I said, ‘This is awesome, bro. Can’t wait to be on the same team with you again and go out to eat and enjoy the moment.’ I told him to relax. It’s all the same stuff here.”

Thomas was on deck when Kennedy got his first hit. “I gave him one of these ‘Atta boy, Buddy!’” he grinned. And he was also on the field for another one of Kennedy’s milestone moments…

Buddy Kennedy Becomes Chase Field’s Newest Hero

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Day Three — Father’s Day — took this dream weekend to a whole other level. Kennedy batted sixth and played second base. In his first two at-bats, he lined to right. In the bottom of the sixth, with his team leading, 3–1, Kennedy stepped to the plate. There was one out. Thomas was on third. Josh Rojas was on second, and David Peralta was on first. The count ran to 3–0. Kennedy, however, thought it was 2–0, so he missed the take sign from Perezchica, who was coaching third base. The next pitch was a fastball right down Broadway and in the upper half of the zone. Kennedy swung, sending the pitch into the left-field bleachers for a fairy-tale grand slam.

His family members in attendance exploded in jubilation. “Total chaos” is how Buddy Sr. described the scene around him after the ball landed in the bleachers. Buddy Sr.’s reaction went on the tv broadcast. He said the next inning that it made him feel “unbelievable,” adding, “It’s the best Father’s Day gift I could ever ask for.” The crowd went bonkers. After Kennedy’s on-base teammates greeted him at the plate, the dugout celebrated with him. The Diamondbacks now had a commanding 7–1 lead, one they held the rest of the game. Meanwhile, the crowd began chanting his name. “Bud-DY! Bud-DY! Bud-DY!”

Kennedy stepped out of the dugout and gave the first Chase Field curtain call in recent memory. The crowd erupted. A new hero — one that hadn’t even been a major leaguer for four days yet — was born.

Oh, the Timing…

Coach Hallenbeck, however, was not there to enjoy Sunday’s game. And, like any good coach would do, he’s given Buddy a hard time for it. “There are some inside jokes going on,” he chuckled. “Because Mike got his first hit in his second game. It was a sacrifice bunt that he beat out, and we were there for that. We missed the first day but were there for the second. So we saw his first hit. And Buddy got his first hit while I was watching on TV. So I was telling him I was mad at him for that. He should have saved that for when I was here. I said, ‘You owe me something.’ So he hit the triple.”

He smiled bigger before continuing. “And then he hits the grand slam when I’m not here, either. (I said to Buddy), ‘At least Mike let us see his first home run in Baltimore. We were there for that, too. You’re giving me nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don’t get your first hit; I don’t get your first homer. Triple? Big deal, man. They’re a dime a dozen.’ I would kill him on that.”

Buddy Kennedy and Uncle Kenny

Hallenbeck also gave Buddy a hard time about the order of communication. When Buddy found out he was going to the majors, he called Hallenbeck’s longtime assistant coach, Kenny Williams, before calling Hallenbeck. “I’m all over him (Buddy) about this because that’s Uncle Kenny. They have a great relationship. Uncle Kenny’s the man,” Hallenbeck explained.

His pace of speaking grew more rapid as he continued, but his smile also broadened. “He’s that perfect assistant coach, where he completely supports the head coach and what we’re doing. But he has a way of really taking care of the young kids and everything. So when Buddy came in and started as a freshman, Kenny did a great job of really getting him on board and accelerating his learning curve. So we affectionately call him Uncle Kenny because he’s like their uncle. He takes care of them.”

“You Never Get Another First One…”

When asked what he’d probably remember about Buddy’s debut weekend in 10 years, Hallenbeck thought for a moment and said, “I took a lot of pictures because you don’t know how…” He paused as he thought some more. “I look back at some of the first pictures from Mike, when he first came up, and we didn’t know that Mike was going to become Mike. It was just really cool that that moment was happening. And same thing with Buddy, we don’t know a year from now, two years from now, 10 years from now. We might be looking at a surefire Hall of Famer and that was his first step. So we’re just trying to soak it in and really take in what it feels like to have it fresh. Because he never gets another first one.”

Truer words could not have been spoken. No major leaguer ever gets another “first weekend in the bigs.” But even if Buddy Kennedy could get another first weekend, he couldn’t have had one with a better script than what played out. First hit with his grandfather — himself a retired major leaguer — being interviewed live on the game broadcast? His first extra-base hit coming with his high school coach in attendance? First home run being a grand slam on Father’s Day with his entire family — including his father — in the stands? It sounds too good to be true, but it wasn’t. Instead, it was part of a magical weekend for a 23-year-old kid getting to play out his lifelong dream.

Main Photo:

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Players/managers mentioned:

Buddy Kennedy, Nick Ahmed, Don Money, Torey Lovullo, Daulton Varsho, Brent Strom, Jordan Luplow, Mike Trout, Dylan Bundy, Carson Kelly, Gilberto Celestino, Alek Thomas, Jake Hager, Christian Walker, Tony Perezchica, Josh Rojas, David Peralta