Nothing middling about McKenry's MTSU love

Rangers catcher thrilled that both men's, women's teams make NCAA tourneys

Nothing middling about McKenry's MTSU love

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers catcher Michael McKenry was a little busy on Saturday afternoon, playing the final four innings of the Cactus League game against the Athletics.

So McKenry wasn't able to watch on television what was happening across the country, but he found out soon enough afterward.

"Yeah, they doubled up, men and women," McKenry said.

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Middle Tennessee State is going to the NCAA Tournament after winning both the men and women's championship games at the Conference USA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

"Yeah, it's a big deal," McKenry said. "We haven't been in Conference USA too long, so to come out and win the conference tournament is a big deal. The women have created something for themselves and the men's team has built up their program. We've had our ups and downs, players leaving the program … getting in trouble. To be where they are speaks volumes for the coaching staff and university."

McKenry is Tennessee to the core. He was born and raised in Knovxille, and played three years at Middle Tennessee State, located in the historic town of Murfreesboro. It was the site of a major Civil War battle.

McKenry chose Middle Tennessee State because it was one of the few schools that would let him play catcher.

"I wanted to catch," McKenry said. "Plus that hard-nosed mentality they have there, I was drawn to that. They have some new age there, but mostly it's hard-nosed, gritty, go out and compete no matter what mentality. The whole university is that way."

Once known as Little Middle, the school is the second-largest university in Tennessee. But it still sits in the shadows of the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

"What it comes down to is we are the little brothers," McKenry said. "A lot of big schools don't want to play us, don't want to see us. It's one of those situations, if we beat them, they are going to look dumb. They don't get any benefit from playing us and losing."

McKenry spent three years at Middle Tennessee State and was a third-team All-American before being drafted in the seventh round by the Rockies in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He has played in 543 Major League games for the Rockies and the Pirates, before signing a Minor League contract with the Rangers this winter.

But he and his wife Jaclyn still make their home in Murfreesboro and give back to the university every year.

"The university is centrally located," McKenry said. "It's not as [well-known] as UT, and obviously it's not Vanderbilt. But the opportunities are fantastic. Murfreesboro is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. My wife and I decided to move back and give back. It was the right decision, a great place, and a lot of good people."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.