MILLVILLE — Buddy Kennedy took his time signing a baseball last month.
He’s had plenty of practice over the past five months trying to get his autograph just right. Already, he’s signed cards for Leaf Trading Cards, and recently had to perfect his signature for an upcoming rookie card with Panini.
In May, he signed his name on the top of his high school math test. A month later, he signed a professional baseball contract.
Kennedy, who graduated from Millville in May, wrapped up his first professional baseball season with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Arizona League team, the AZL Diamondbacks, in September. While in Arizona, the fifth-round draft pick signed various Diamondbacks team apparel and even some poster-sized photos of him in his high school jersey.
It’s still all new to the 19-year-old, who was home for the last two weeks in October before continuing his offseason regimen in the Dominican Republic, where he went from Oct. 28 to Nov. 12.
“It was very good,” Kennedy said of the Dominican trip. “It made me very thankful of where I live.”
Next month, Kennedy starts his second straight year of offseason workouts with another Millville native, Los Angeles Angels outfielder and two-time American League MVP Mike Trout.
“It was very fun,” Kennedy said of his first year as a pro. “It was all new, but I understood it and it was very fun.”
Clifton “Buddy” Kennedy arrived in Arizona on June 20 with his family. The goodbyes were tough.
“I’m an 18-year-old kid, and all of a sudden you’re by yourself. I’m a little home sick,” Kennedy said on July 3, a few days removed from making his professional debut.
Bud and Shannon Kennedy never imagined they would leave their son on the other side of the country in the dry desert heat to fend for himself.
“We left our 18-year-old son across the country in a different environment he’s never been in by himself,” Bud said, “having to do laundry, take care of his money, get up, go to the ballpark and do everything. That, I think, has grown him up quicker.”
Kennedy stayed in a hotel and shared a room with a high school Florida pitcher named Harrison Francis. Kennedy enjoyed having a roommate, he said. It helped to have someone with whom to share the new experience.
Both players were on a strict schedule for the AZL Diamondbacks.
Kennedy made his minor league debut June 29. He went 3 for 4 with two triples. He admitted the next day in a text message how nervous he was going into that game as a designated hitter.
He batted more than .300 in his first month of the season, shifting to play regularly at third base. But while things went well at the plate, he had a hard time adjusting to life away from South Jersey.
“It’s the same routine every day,” Kennedy said. “You wake up, get to the ballpark by 1. Get your workout in before game time at 7. Eat dinner and then come home. Living on my own and on this schedule is so different.”
The team provides the players with lunch and dinner every day, and they eat breakfast at the hotel.
“I can walk to the complex (from the hotel),” said Kennedy, whose away games are no more than 40 minutes from the team’s base in Scottsdale. “On off days, I can do what I want. Other than that, it’s just lunch and dinner every day.”
July 3 was one of Kennedy’s first days off. He found it hard to leave his bed.
“There’s stuff to do around here, like golf and a couple nice restaurants. I just want to relax after four days of playing and give the body a break,” Kennedy said that day. “I’ll go do some laundry and get dinner tonight.”
Kennedy went the whole season without seeing his mother and didn’t see his father until the end of August, when the season wrapped up. Fortunately, technology allowed them to talk consistently.
“I told him every day it’s a job and you have to work hard and be true to yourself and just work hard and you’ll get as far as you want to make it,” Bud Kennedy said.
Buddy’s older sister, Alexis, visited in mid-July. They hung out, which helped give Buddy that sense of home during the season. Younger brother Cooper, 8, has yet to see him play professionally.
“I’m his biggest fan. Anyone can tell you that,” said Alexis, 23, last week. “As kids growing up, they have a dream. They want to be this and that. They want to be a pro like their favorite player. That was Buddy all his life.”
Kennedy battled fatigue from playing so much in Arizona’s dry heat. He wrapped up his 50-game season Sept. 1 batting .270 (48 for 178) with nine doubles and eight triples.
“Playing every day is awesome, but it does take a toll on your body,” he said.
When Kennedy pulled up to Millville High School in mid-October in his brand new car, he grabbed the attention of a couple students who knew him.
The car, which he didn’t want to post pictures of on social media, was the first big purchase he made with his $550,000 signing bonus. He hoped to get a truck but opted for the luxury sedan because it had better gas mileage, he said.
Making adult decisions like that are what Kennedy learned in his three months in Arizona.
“As a mom, I hadn’t seen him since June to now,” Shannon said last month. “I’m a hover mom. When I went out there, I made sure he got water. I got him cases.
“It’s clicking in finally. He’s really quickly growing up. We had a heart-to-heart the other day. I told him it’s been fun and dandy you’re home. But this is your job now. This is business.”