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The story of John Kindl

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It’s not often that the words “Rhode Island” and “professional baseball” connect, but when they do, it’s sure to be a story worth telling. So it is with the story of John Kindl, a Warwick native who played professional baseball in the farm systems of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and Seattle Mariners in the 1960s, before, like so many other budding professional athletes, he succumbed to the burdens of injuries and the calling of marriage and career.

“I was burned out by the end,” said Kindl. “Frustrated by the injuries and all that stuff. I’d had enough. I wasn’t the same hitter that I was before.”

Kindl was born in Providence but grew up in Warwick, near Warwick Pond. He played in the Warwick Little League, playing for the 1953 Kiwanis All-Star team that won the Rhode Island Little League Championship and another team sponsored by Rhode Island Sand and Gravel.

In a Beacon article from 1954, when Kindl’s Warwick Kiwanis team faced Westerly in the Rhode Island Little League championship, the reporter wrote, “The fans here remember Johnny Kindl! He’s the lad who crashed a homer with two aboard to sink the Westerly team last year.”

Kindl attended Warwick Vets, but he didn’t play baseball until his senior year. He had a Providence Journal paper route from the time he was 13 until just before he turned 17, when he sold it to a friend so he could play high school ball.

That 1959 team won the high school state championship.

Next Kindl headed to The University of Rhode Island, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and played varsity baseball. He also bowled a bit, going to the national tournament in Detroit, Michigan.

John Kindl’s professional baseball career started in 1963, when he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of URI. Kindl was in graduate school at the time, pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but that didn’t keep him from following his baseball dreams. He went to Cardinals spring training in March of 1964, and afterwards was assigned to Single-A ball in Winnipeg, Canada, playing for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, a minor-league team of the Cardinals named after the goldeneye, a smoked delicacy of the area.

“We had to cross the border all the time to play teams,” said Kindl. “And it was cold in the spring, but it was nice for me because it's cold here in Rhode Island in the spring. So I was with that team for the cold season. I had to break in, you know, I was the rookie on the team.”

But break in he did. In 76 games with Winnipeg he hit .283 with 11 home runs.

From then on his career was launched. Kindl moved up the ranks. He played two seasons for the Tulsa Oilers, a Double-A, and then Triple-A, team in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kindl’s first season, when the Oilers were in Double-A, he played in 136 games and hit 21 home runs. The next season, when they’d moved up to Triple-A, Kindl struggled and was pushed down to Double-A, in Arkansas, but an injury to one of the Triple-A outfielders cleared his path back to Tulsa.

“After about a month went by one of the other outfielders for Triple-A Tulsa got hurt, and they called me back up,” said Kindl. “That was a big break. It’s unfortunate you have to have a break like that to do anything, but that’s how it is in sports. Somebody gets hurt, you get the chance to play their position, you do well, that’s the only way you can advance. Fortunately, I did really well, and by July I was leading the league in hitting.”

But just when Kindl was reaching his peak, the injuries started piling up. Near the end of his second season with the Oilers, in 1966, he dove for a line drive and bent back the fingers in his glove hand. It hurt like the dickens.

“But the manager wanted me in the lineup,” said Kindl. “So after about five days sitting around the manager comes up to me and says ‘Do you wanna play ball or do you wanna go home?’ And boy I was shocked. I don’t wanna go home, what am I gonna do in the middle of the summer? So he stuck me back in the lineup.”

Still, even with a bad hand, he finished the season in Tulsa batting .314.

Next year Kindl was assigned to the big league Cardinals club in spring training. He was playing with some of the great players of the that generation, like the great outfielder Roger Maris and the fireballing pitcher Bob Gibson. In spring training games Kindl faced off against the Yankees and his favorite player as a kid, Mickey Mantle.

In a newspaper report from 1966, Kindl’s pastor at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Warwick, the Rev. Carl Bloomquist, was quoted as saying, “We always knew John was an outstanding ball player. He could hit the ball a country mile when he was just a youngster.”

The pastor also laid out hopes that if Kindl made the team, and the Cardinals played the Mets, then “Maybe we could hire a bus and take a group of our church members to see John play.”

His major league contract was for $1,100 a month, to be paid to John Anthony Kindl, Jr., of 125 Edgehill Road, Warwick, Rhode Island. The contract was even signed by Stan Musial, the Cardinals great, and in 1967 their general manager.

But then disaster struck.

“After about two weeks of spring training I did something to my hand, I don’t know what,” said Kindl. “Man that thing was so sore, I could barely open a door. So they told me take a couple weeks off.”

So Kindl was sent back to the minors. His hand never really properly recovered. He had to start wearing a rubber foam pad to take off some of the sting when he swung, so he had to change his hitting style. No longer could he rip his hands through the zone to hit the towering home runs that made him infamous in Warwick as a kid. He was traded to the Cubs, then the Yankees. The Cubs tried to make him into a third baseman.

“Now third base drove me crazy,” said Kindl. “Guys are knocking line drives at me, boom, skidding off the grass, hitting me in the chest. It was real different being 90 feet away from the hitter than being 300. Barry Bonds father, Bobby Bonds, he was on the [San Francisco] Giants team. One time he hit me so hard in the chest, bam, that the shortstop says ‘you ok?’. It skidded off the wet grass and hit me right in the chest, a screaming liner. I picked it up and threw him out, but I said gosh, I thought it would hurt a lot more than that. But they didn’t make a third baseman out of me.”

His career ended finally in the Seattle Mariners farm system, to whom the Yankees had loaned Kindl for the latter part of the 1968 season.

“So I went into the managers office and told him I was going back to school to do my masters,” said Kindl. “So I quit in May of 1968, I quit completely.”

In the meantime Kindl had married Ruthie Huffmyer, who he met in Tulsa while playing for the Oilers.

He finished his thesis at URI and went to work in engineering in Florida. He later operated his father’s jewelry business in Rhode Island.

Even though John Kindl never made it to the big leagues, he got to play with and against some of the greats. And it wasn’t always a sure thing that he’d be able to play at all. By the time Kindl had graduated college and was playing in the minors it was 1964, and the Vietnam War was in full swing.

“I had left URI to go to [my first] spring training and so my father calls me and tells me you’ve got some mail from the Army,” said Kindl. “They’d classified me 1-A since I’d got out of school.”

In 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was passed, giving the President the legal justification to pursue peace and security in Southeast Asia at any cost. The draft was ramping up.

“So maybe that day, or the next, we were playing and I’m out in the outfield and a guy hits a towering fly ball in the 9th inning and I’m waiting for it to come down and it’s like a voice from the sky says ‘you’re gonna get drafted if you don’t watch out,’” said Kindl. “I caught the ball and went into lunch. I go to the manager, or to the general manager, and said my Dad got a letter from the Army. I think I’m gonna get drafted. So they fly me home and see if I can get a job in the [Army] Reserves or the National Guard.”

The day he got home, a nervous wreck, Kindl dashed to the draft board to see what his situation was.

“So she looks me up in the file cabinet and I’m not in there,” said Kindl. “I’m on her desk.”

So Kindl headed to the Army Reserves and signed up all in one day. The next day he got his draft notice in the mail, but he’d already signed up for the reserves. It was a close call, almost preventing him from pursuing his baseball career.

John Kindl lives in East Greenwich now, with his wife Ruthie. He enjoys fishing at a cabin they own in New Hampshire, as well as watching his grandson, Mason Snead, play ball games at Dickerman Diamond at the Providence Country Day School in East Providence.

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