Kendrick Gutierrez knows how to make an entrance.
Whether it’s in the parking lot with his white Hummer H3 “I have to fill up every week” or on the baseball field, where his 6-4, 220-pound frame sets him apart, the American High senior first baseman is unmistakable.
On Friday at 10 a.m., Gutierrez and his Patriots teammates will take the stage in a Class 8A state semifinal against Plant City’s Durant (25-5) at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
Gutierrez, who leads American in batting average (.515), doubles (10), homers (three) and RBI (29), has the respect of rival coaches, including Coral Gables’ Phillip Wisser, whose team lost 7-1 to American in the regional quarterfinals.
“I love seeing great kids succeed,” Wisser said. “[Gutierrez] plays the game the right way. He’s quiet, respectful, and he’s having a great season. He’s a threat because he’s big and strong, and he’s very good defensively. It’s hard to throw over a 6-4 first baseman.”
Gutierrez is the only player on American’s roster who is making his second trip to state. He was a freshman starter in 2010, when the Patriots lost to Flanagan 12-3 in the Class 6A state final.
“I was kind of along for the ride that year,” said Gutierrez, who has signed to play junior college ball at Palm Beach State, pending results of the June MLB Draft. “This year, I’m more of a leader.”
As a senior and team captain, Gutierrez admits he cried during a game this year. It was April 23 in a district semifinal against Krop, and Gutierrez made the first out of the last inning, leaving American trailing 5-2.
“I thought my high school career was over,” he said.
Fortunately for Gutierrez, his teammates rallied. Kevin Peraza started things off with a one-out double, and Roman Gonzalez ended it with a game-winning chopper over the third baseman’s glove in a thrilling 6-5 victory.
In the regionals, American beat Gables, Hialeah (13-7) and Sunset (4-3) to get to state.
“Krop was our wake-up call,” said former major-league middle infielder Ricky Gutierrez, who is also Kendrick’s father and American’s fifth-year coach.
His father is just part of Gutierrez’s talented athletic family. His cousin on his mother’s side is James Jones, a forward on the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat.
Gutierrez’s mother, Lisa Jones, was a guard for the University of Miami. And Gutierrez’s brother, Ricky Jr., is a redshirt freshman wide receiver at the University of Connecticut.
Gutierrez uses his family tree as motivation.
“I want to outdo all of them,” he said. “I want to make my own path.”
He is off to a good start, and his father said the only tool Gutierrez needs to improve significantly is his speed. Because of his height, Gutierrez’s body is still a work in progress in terms of coordination.
For now, Gutierrez is focused on the state finals. Junior right-hander Ronnie Williams will start Friday. Should American (21-8) make Saturday’s state final against Lake Brantley (25-5) or Jupiter (23-4), the Patriots would choose between a pair of senior right-handers: Peraza and William Penelas.
“We’re confident,” Gutierrez said. “We believe good things will happen.”
If so, you can expect a fun victory ride in that white Hummer.
The South squad defeated the North squad Thursday night in the annual Miami-Dade County All-Star Classic at Florida Christian. The South rallied for a 12-25, 19-25, 25-16, 25-18, 17-15 victory led by Sunset’s Jose Morales, who had 10 kills and Juan De La Hoz, who had six kills and four blocks. The North was led by Coral Gables’ Daryl Bustamante’s 11 kills and Hialeah-Miami Lakes’ Gus Pena’s eight kills and four blocks.