TORONTO - Nathan Kennedy awoke from an afternoon nap April 27 as his roommate, Josh Rosecrans, arrived home.
The two University of Alabama Crimson Tide pitchers could hear sounds of sirens in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“The warnings went off (about an impending tornado) the previous week and nothing happened, we didn’t think too much initially,” said Kennedy, a right-hander from Guelph, Ont.
Then, the two watched TV in their bungalow and learned the tornado was headed for downtown Tuscaloosa.
“We went outside, looked across a lake and off in the distance, maybe half a mile away, we could see electric transformers exploding,” Kennedy said.
So they went inside to “get ready.”
Fortunately, for Kennedy, roomie Rosecrans is from Edmond, Oakla., — tornado country.
Rosecrans knew what to do, lessons learned from his father Levi. Kennedy quickly brought his queen-sized mattress from his room into the bathroom.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Rosecrans laid on his back in the bath tub and the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kennedy climbed on top with Rosecrans holding down the mattress.
For the two men in a tub it was their personal fox hole at 308 17th Street in Tuscaloosa.
“It felt like 10 freight trains rolling over us,” Kennedy said. “We heard this huge ripping sound and Josh said ‘there goes the roof.’ It was the scariest sound I’d ever heard in my life. Metal and wood were flying everywhere. Both our ears popped, like when you are on a plane.
“I was thinking we were about to get sucked up into it. I thought it was over, we were probably going to die. Josh did the best he could to hold onto the mattress.”
And within 30 seconds it was over ... 30 seconds which “felt like three hours,” Kennedy said.
What rushed down 17th Street and did so much destruction was an EF4 tornado with winds of 166-200 mph. The swath of destruction stretched almost six miles long and at least a mile wide through the city of 93,000, killing 40 residents.
Nearly 600 people died in the storms, which hit Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama.
“Our whole house was gone except for our bath tub,” Kennedy said. “There weren’t any trees and it was a heavily-treed area.”
Once outside they heard screams of panic and pain. Kennedy and Rosecrans dug out a couple of people from the wreckage and headed to Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
Amazingly the campus wasn’t touched — as if the ghost of Bear Bryant stared down the tornado.
So, why did they hide in that bathtub?
“Because it’s attached and offers the most protection,” Kennedy said.
“Houses here don’t have basements. We could have gone into a closet in my room but we’d have been trapped. That wall completely collapsed. I’ve been through a couple of rough snow storms, nothing like this.”
The three-room bungalow with a common room and two bathrooms now consisted of a bath tub, debris and dust.
Kennedy called home to Guelph to let his mom, Anne-Marie, know he was fine and then he lost his cell service.
“We were lucky, we thought we were going to die, I’m happy to be alive,” Kennedy said. “I was praying,”
Carson Tinker, long snapper for the Tide football team was tossed 50 feet by the tornado, while his girlfriend was thrown into a tree and suffered fatal injuries.
Kennedy, whose father is director of operations at RattleSnake Golf Club in Milton, started the season as Alabama’s closer, after he and Rosecrans transferred from Grayson County junior college in Texas. Kennedy said he blew his first save opportunity and lost the closer assignment.
He’s appeared in 16 games and is 1-0 with a 4.11 ERA and one save. He has walked five and struck out nine in 15 1/3 innings.
Kennedy pitched three innings, allowing one run in a 6-5 extra-inning win against the Troy Trojans and pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing one run in an 11-6 loss to the No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores.
In the summer of 2010, Kennedy pitched for coach Mike Steed’s Thunder Bay Border Cats in the Northwoods League, a college summer league.
Growing up in Guelph he played for coach Tom Campagnolo and under coach Matt Baird with the Oakville Royals before heading to Grayson.
“Now, I’m cherishing life every day and I thank God I’m alive,” Kennedy said.
“Living through that tornado makes coming in with the bases loaded a lot easier.”