Former Blue Raider Michael McKenry on retiring from pro ball after 12 seasons and joining MTSU baseball as its director of player development. Erik Bacharach/DNJ
As time arrives for pitchers and catchers to report to warm-weather diamonds, one fewer catcher will be among them.
Farragut High School alum Michael McKenry has retired from baseball with a world of memories.
McKenry wasn’t destined for Cooperstown, but he spent all or part of seven seasons in the major leagues. And he isn’t really leaving. His playing days are done but he’ll still be immersed in the game on two fronts, one in Murfreesboro and another in Pittsburgh.
“All I ever wanted to do was be a great dude, be a great teammate and, of course, winning,’’ McKenry said.
“I prayed I could make everyone around me better and now I felt I could do that better on the other side.’’
The other side will be as a TV analyst for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh embraced McKenry from 2011-13, bestowing the nickname “Fort McKenry” for his defensive prowess.
“Pittsburgh became my family,’’ he said. “That’s why I’m going back. They embraced me as a little brother.’’
McKenry will also serve as a director of player personnel at Middle Tennessee State University, where he was an All-American. The role is similar to Todd Helton’s at Tennessee.
Helton and McKenry were teammates, briefly, at Colorado in 2010. McKenry returned to the Rockies for 2014 and 2015. The 2016 season was an ordeal, hopping around four minor-league clubs before a curtain call in the majors with St. Louis.
His final campaign, 2017, was in Durham, N.C., the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. At 32, McKenry decided to explore the next chapter.
“I had a ton of opportunities to keep playing,’’ he said. “I probably feel better now physically than I have for years.’’
The record shows McKenry appeared in 311 games: 187 with the Pirates; 121 for Colorado; three for the Cardinals. He was a career .238 hitter with 29 home runs but blossomed to .315 for the Rockies in 2014. During his peripatetic 2016 season he batted .341 at AAA Memphis.
“I got healthy, that’s all it was,’’ he said.
McKenry was called up to debut with the Rockies late in 2010.
“I’m in Colorado Springs (the AAA club) and got the phone call,’’ he said. “My wife (Jaclyn) was jumping on my back. My first at-bat was an eight-pitch pop-out and the crowd gave me a standing ovation. That spoke to the integrity of the fans in Colorado and it made me want to go back.’’
The next summons, in hindsight a life-changing one, came in June 2013, in Pawtucket, R.I., home of the Red Sox’ AAA team. McKenry was leaving a grocery store with a full cart when the phone rang. He’d been traded to Pittsburgh and was to report to the Pirates. He wouldn’t need those groceries, after all.
“I took the groceries back in the store because I couldn’t tell Jaclyn I’d spent $150 on groceries we weren’t going to eat,’’ he said.
Jaclyn (from Lenoir City) is “the rock of this whole thing,’’ McKenry said, on his journey every step of the way, up and down. Watching from home were parents Cliff and Shelia.
Too, there was a proud Farragut baseball family. McKenry was a catalyst in the 2003 state championship season (48-1).
“Still the best team I’ve ever been on, period,’’ McKenry said. “And probably the best baseball memory I’ll ever have.
“Everybody trusted each other. If I’m ever coaching a team, that’s what I want. It was pure.’’
Coaching? Ever? I’d bet on it.