Note: CU Independent Rockies Beat Writer Justin Guerriero is covering the Rockies live during Spring Training play in Scottsdale, AZ, from March 23-29.
Professional baseball is unique in the way that players are specifically, and slowly, groomed for the Major Leagues. Once drafted, players are assigned to the Minor Leagues, usually starting at a Class A level. From there they are promoted to Class AA and finally to Class AAA. If they’re lucky, they will get called up to the Majors from there. Sure, freaks of nature like Stephen Strasburg get to the Majors in a heartbeat, but it’s not an easy journey for most. In fact, it’s not uncommon for players to sometimes spend years at each minor league level. Justin Guerriero of the CU Independent talked to Rockies catcher Michael McKenry, who spent five years playing in the Minor Leagues before being called up by the Rockies in 2010, to get an everyday player’s perspective of the realities of getting to play Major League Baseball.
CUI- Justin Guerriero: A baseball player’s path to the Major Leagues is definitely a longer process than, say, the NBA and NFL, where players drafted don’t usually have to wait long to be playing at the top levels. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think fans really understand that it’s not uncommon for baseball players to spend five years in the Minor Leagues?
Michael McKenry: Yeah, I think there’s a misconception. I think people think you get drafted and get this huge amount of money and that it’s a fast road, which it’s not. The majority of the players who get drafted don’t get that much money to lean on or to change your life. You get paid nothing in the Minor Leagues, you probably have to work a job every offseason. I did every offseason, even in my first couple years in the big leagues because you just don’t know. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this game, especially in the first little bit, and you kind of just wait for an opportunity. There’s a lot of guys, a lot of players who know how to play and you kind of have to wait for your moment. It took two trades for mine to come, where I ended up in Pittsburgh, and a lot of good things happened there. You just have to wait it out, play hard, and just see what happens.
CUI: What was your offseason job?
McKenry: I did everything from lawn care to giving baseball lessons to helping out with different odds and ends. My wife actually supported us for the two first years of our marriage, we’ve been married almost seven years. She worked for a marketing company and found a job wherever we were at. What people don’t see is that it (the path to the Majors) is a huge sacrifice and commitment you have to make and we always had a lot of short term goals and long term goals. It was a constant feel of climbing the ladder, baby step by baby step.
CUI: Did you ever feel bogged down in the Minors or lose hope when things were tough?
McKenry: I think if you don’t you’re not human. I think that’s part of the process. You hit a boiling point and tell yourself “man, this is really hard, I gotta figure something out” but the person who always put me in perspective and put me back to Earth was my wife, my fiancee at the time. She always told me to live in the moment and enjoy the process. When that moment finally came and I got called up, it was priceless.
CUI: How are you feeling going into this season as Spring Training winds down?
McKenry: Good. Spring Training is always a process, you continue to learn and grow and try to really hone in on who you are and create an identity for yourself to take into the season. You’re going to have bumps and turns during the season but as long as you know yourself and what you’re trying to do, you can always find your way right back.
CUI: So after spending three seasons in Pittsburgh and coming to Colorado, what’s the goal for you?
McKenry: A big part of it is to take things day by day, but the number one goal for me is to let my light shine every single day; to try to impact people’s lives and be somebody that is humbled, a leader, and a servant. Really, it’s about not making things about myself. I want to be the best player I can be, but at the end of the day I just want to be a great person. I want to be known for who I am as a person, not who I am as a baseball player. I want to represent my Lord and Savior every day, and that’s honestly my number one goal. If I can do that, I’m happy.
Contact CU Independent Rockies Beat Writer Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.