Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fantastic 4 go out champs

Key Goldeyes hanging up their cleats as winners

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When the ball left his hand for the last out of the Winnipeg Goldeyes' championship season, shortstop Price Kendall was pumped but at peace.

The Goldeyes won the 2012 American Association championship Friday night in Kansas with an 8-3 win over the Wichita Wingnuts, sweeping the Wingnuts 3-0 in the best-of-five series.

The first baseball title for the Goldeyes since 1994 -- their inaugural season in the Northern League -- is also the first title in that span for any professional sports team in Winnipeg.

Kendall threw to first baseman Josh Mazzola for the 6-3 putout (shortstop to first) for the last out of the game, winning Kendall his first title as a pro player. It will also be his last.

Kendall, along with pitchers Ace Walker, Zach Baldwin and Brian Beuning announced their retirements after the win. And they're leaving as champions.

"You dream about stuff like this but you don't think it's ever going to happen," Kendall said, shortly after being soaked by champagne. "Just to get to professional baseball is a journey in itself but to go out on top, a champion? This is a storybook, fairy-tale ending. It doesn't get any better than this."

Kendall, who played three seasons with the Goldeyes, was the 2011 American Association rookie of the year with a .324 batting average, becoming the first rookie to lead the Goldeyes in hits with 135.

"It's been a dream come true and a pleasure to play for such a great organization. I can't thank them enough for the opportunity to come out here and show the whole world what I have," Kendall said. "It's been an unbelievable experience. I feel like when I came in here, I was a little boy and I'm leaving a grown old man."

Soon to be the dad of a second daughter, Kendall expects to become an officer in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, where he will join his father Richard Kendall and uncle Arieh Kendall, who between them have served 40 years in the department.

Beuning retired once before from the Goldeyes, in 2008. But this time he means it.

"We did it for Price, for Ace, for Baldy, for myself. We're all done. It was our last year," said Beuning, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper. Because he is on parental leave after he and his wife Ginger welcomed their son Max on July 30, Beuning was able to join the Goldeyes full time for the full ride. "I was doing this for my family too, I think they'll understand now. No words can describe it. This is why we play ball," he said.

It started with a phone call. Beuning called Walker and asked his buddy to get him a ticket to watch the Goldeyes play when they were in Sioux Falls in mid-June. It was a phone call that changed the season for the Fish.

The Goldeyes' bullpen was in dire straits so manager Rick Forney told Walker to ask Beuning if he wanted to return and pitch. Beuning, who keeps himself very fit, stepped in. First delivering as middle reliever, he became the team's steely-nerved closer, earning four saves in the playoffs and pitching the last two innings of the final game.

Baldwin and Walker each spent five seasons with the Goldeyes. Baldwin will join his family's insurance business while Walker will head home to Oklahoma as the team's leader in a number of categories, including career wins with 46.

"I couldn't think of a better ending, that can only come from God. I'm so thankful to the Goldeyes for letting me play with them for five years. I'm going to miss it, but I'm overwhelmed with gratefulness to be part of history with the Goldeyes," said Walker, an artist who will devote himself full-time to his business, Ace Walker Art. "I'll never forget the incredible run we went on (six-game winning streak) to win it all."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPAshleyPrest

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2012 C2

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