McKenry finding a better balance
Rockies prospect wraps up tough year with strong AFL showing
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Michael McKenry loves playing baseball and makes his living doing so. But this season, Colorado's possible catcher of the future made one thing perfectly clear: baseball does not dominate his life.
The Tennessee native, whom the Rockies made a seventh-round Draft pick in 2007, is emphatic about where his priorities lie. He'll never give the Colorado front office reason to doubt his desire to reach the big leagues or be the best ballplayer he can possibly be, but it's refreshing to hear McKenry discuss the bigger picture and what life away from the game means to him.
McKenry is a power-hitting catcher who hit 22 homers and drove in 90 runs for the Asheville Tourists in the Class A South Atlantic League in 2007. So, the idea of his moving up to the Modesto Nuts of the high-octane Class A Advanced California League in 2008 had many observers wondering whether 30 home runs and 100-plus RBIs were in his future.
But life got in the way for McKenry and his newlywed wife, Jaclyn, this year, twisting his world -- on and off the field -- in a painful and terrible way. McKenry's father-in-law passed away June 6, leaving a void in his wife's life and his own. The Rockies were exceptionally understanding and didn't balk when McKenry went home for two weeks in late May and early June to be with their families.
When he returned to Modesto, his mind and his focus were thousands of miles away on his family. When his season came to a close, McKenry's numbers were good -- 18 homers and 75 RBIs -- but nowhere near what was expected of him. His batting average dropped 29 points to .258 from the previous year and his strikeout total jumped from 84 to 101.
"A lot of things made this year tough," said McKenry, who is currently playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. "My wife's father passed away and the reality of it makes baseball seem small. Life has nothing to do with what's on the field. It's just where you're focus is. It's much easier to get focused when you have a clear head and my focus was on her 24-7 this summer.
"I wanted to take care of her. We got married in September, and I have her here with me now. And that's made my life and her life much better. My focus on baseball is better now because she's here with me. Baseball is a game and it's fun and you enjoy coming to the park every day. But when something like that happens, reality hits. She helped me through it and I helped her, and we've been growing together every day since."
McKenry says his father-in-law was one of his biggest fans and would have wanted him to focus on baseball and getting to the Major Leagues. He would certainly be proud of what McKenry has done so far with Phoenix. He's hitting .366 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs through 41 at-bats. McKenry had a pair of doubles and an RBI on Tuesday against Surprise and also put together a three-homer, seven-RBI effort on Oct. 27 at Surprise.
The Middle Tennessee State product says he is in a better place this fall. McKenry is thankful for how the Rockies dealt with him earlier this season and is repaying them in the best way possible -- by producing. It's turned out to be a nice postscript to what was a trying year personally for McKenry.
McKenry won't speculate on what his big fall will do for his career in terms of where he'll be next season. Most likely he'll be at Double-A, but it's possible he could find himself in the Pacific Coast League at some point. Either way, it's out of his hands.
"EY [Colorado teammate Eric Young] said it best the other day when he said you have to make people make decisions," McKenry said. "That's what all the guys here are doing. You can showcase your talent and make people think about you. Whether it's the Rockies or any other organization, just play the way you can play and give 110 percent.
"This is a big stepping stone. It was a goal of mine last year to come to Arizona, so I'm going to take in every bit that I can while I'm here. I'm going to pick everyone's brain, because everyone has a different approach. Hopefully this will be a springboard to the next level."
Perhaps it will be just that, both on and off the field.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.