Tennessee native Michael McKenry starred as a catcher at Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tennessee and then headed to Middle Tennessee State where he caught for the Blue Raiders for three seasons.
“The Fort” was selected in the seventh round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies. He spent parts of the next 12 seasons playing professionally for the Rockies, Pirates and Cardinals organizations, where he appeared on a few different cards.
Since his retirement from the game in 2018, McKenry has served as a studio analyst for the Pittsburgh Pirates pre and post-game shows for AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh. He is currently helping develop an app called TailTrax, an application dedicated to pet health.
I caught up to him to discuss his admiration of Jackie Robinson, his subpar ballerina act on his 2012 Topps card, his autographed baseball collection and much more.
Tony Reid–Do you remember the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Michael McKenry-I got asked in high school by a little kid. I will never forget it. He came up to me and it was the first time I signed anything. A lot of guys practiced their autograph. I never did. I just chicken scratched something on there and wrote a bible verse. I thought, I hope he understands who that is in ten years.
It was a fun moment. It was a kid I worked with at a camp. I was 17 or 18 years old. It was a special moment. A kid that has the gall to walk up to a semi-adult, asking if they would sign an autograph, you have to respect that.
TR–Another pinch me moment for a lot of athletes is seeing themselves on a trading card for the first time. You first appeared on a Bowman Chrome card in 2008. That isn’t technically not your rookie, but we won’t get too far in the weeds on that. This card pictures you in a Colorado Rockies uniform. Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
MM-Yeah it was that card and then I had a card made in Waikiki (in the now defunct Hawaii Winter League). I will never forget that card. It was a really cool card. I was up at the plate. They did a really good job. That was one of the first cards and I was like “Wow. That is a really well made card.’
Your first couple cards in pro ball with a short stint and a short season, it’s tough to get good photos. That card in Waikiki, maybe because it was I was in Hawaii, but that was a great card. One of my other favorites was that Bowman card.
TR–In 2008 you appeared on a Modesto Nuts card and were in a few other minor league issues along the way, including your last one with Durham in 2017.
MM– I am very fortunate that I have had a lot of fans give me some of my cards over the years. I am a giving person. I love making someone smile. I feel like people should use their platform to serve people and I try to do that at all costs. I gave away most of my cards over the years, whether it be the cards Topps or Bowman or whoever sent me. The fans a lot of times, tell me to keep cards. I thought that was always so cool. I will sign your whole book. I really appreciate that.
TR- Fittingly enough, you were in a Pirates uniform on your official rookie card in 2011 Bowman. Being a face of the organization now, how special was it to see yourself in a Buccos uniform?
MM-Yes. I also remember my 2012 Topps card. Do I look like a gymnast there?
That was one of the toughest popups. The wind was blowing in Turner Field. Nate McLouth popped the ball up. Jeff Karstens was pitching. It’s crazy how I remember that. McLouth is a buddy of mine. He married a girl my wife grew up with and someone I was really good fiends with in high school. It’s a really small world. I had that acrobatic, weird catch because of the swirling wind at Turner. I was a rookie. Nobody told me that. No one said if the ball goes above the grandstand that you may want to really pay attention because it’s not going to be coming down in the same spot. That’s why I look like a completely messed up ballerina.
TR–Did you save game jerseys, bats ball and other memorabilia? Do you have an office or mancave where you have items displayed today?
MM-If you have ever been to the Diamondbacks ballpark they have an area in left field where you walk in the hallway and they have a wall of signed balls from Diamondbacks, legends and more. There are probably a thousand balls. I saw that as a young pup in instructs when I was 21 and I said that I was going to have that one day. I am up to about 298 balls. I started when I was a kid. I am still going. There are amazing clubhouse guys with the Pirates and I still get balls every now and then. I get every catcher from every team and I get other players I like, based on their personality, character and how they treat the game. It’s not so much who is the best player, it’s more about their integrity. Some of my favorite teammates you may not even know but I have a signed ball.
I have about 19 jerseys of different guys. A lot of those come from charities. I sucker my wife into buying jerseys. I tell it’s for a good cause! Aside from the cool jerseys I have of friends, one of the coolest ones is one I have of Wes Welker. We both gave each other signed jerseys because we won a lookalike contest when he was playing for the Broncos and I played for the Rockies. I am trying to be really good about it.
My wife just did a legacy book for me. You can pick whatever timeframe you want and we are doing my playing career. They take articles, pictures and they make a story out of it. It’s in this leather bound book and you can have it for life. It’s really neat, if you don’t need to have a room full of stuff. My mom gave me some stuff from high school. It was a giant tote. It looked like there was a body in there. She said she kept up with everything when I was in high school. Obviously so!
TR– Did you collect cards as a kid?
MM-I started collecting cards as a kid. I went through a very short stint of collecting comic books as a kid. I don’t know where that came from. I do love Marvel stuff now. I started collecting balls as a kid. My uncle is a PGA Pro instructor. He got me a Hank Aaron ball. He got me a Johnny Bench ball. That kind of started my love for it. Now, we are doing that for his son. He is a big football fan and he is a collector. We get him mini helmets of players every year. We are carrying on the tradition.
It has been something I have really enjoyed. I love looking back at the cards from the seventies. The mustaches and the hair, it’s so fun. I’m sure I have some really cool cards and in the sense of value but I haven’t looked at that. It’s more like look at this guy’s hair style. It’s pristine.
Ever since I was a little kid, I watched a black and white documentary on him and I fell in love with Jackie Robinson. I later did a report on him and understood what type of human being he was and I fell in love with him even more. Later on I liked Craig Biggio because he was a former catcher who played second base and was a Hall of Famer. He was really gritty. I liked Jason Kendall when he was with the Pirates. He just got hit by pitches. I like the gritty guys. I like the little guys. That gave me a lot of hope. We didn’t have analytics back in the day. They looked at my stature and thought I wasn’t big enough or they thought I looked like a fullback. There was so much emphasis on projectability. Jose Altuve is an MVP and saying he’s 5’6” is being very generous. The biggest reason he had an opportunity is because of analytics. He squeezed his orange of talent to a degree that we didn’t have back then. If we did have it they were more focused on things you really couldn’t control. It’s a very different game.
I love the game now. I wish it was ten years ago that all this started. It would have been fun for me but its fun for me to be on the other side now.