Catching is his calling

Catching is his calling

Catching is his calling
Back when Michael McKenry was a member of the baseball team at Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tenn., he played a variety of positions. He pitched some, he played some outfield, and he saw action at each of the infield spots. Ironically, what he didn't do a whole lot of was catch.

"I played everywhere in high school," said McKenry, who is in his second season as one of the Pirates' catchers. "Wherever I was needed, that's where I played. I just did whatever the team needed, but deep down I wanted to be behind the plate from day one."

So why wasn't he used there back then?

"When I was really young I got thrown back there," McKenry said. "Then as I got a little older and the game started to speed up, some guys couldn't play other positions. They could only catch. So I ended up taking other positions. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot from it, but ultimately my heart was behind the plate. That was where I truly wanted to be."

It's hard to believe now, but McKenry had to "beg" some of the colleges that were recruiting him to let him catch. They had never seen him play the position and they refused to grant his request. That is until Middle Tennessee State head coach Steve Peterson came calling.

"He looked me dead in the eye and said 'I'm going to take this scholarship off the table unless you tell me that you'll be my catcher,'" McKenry recalled. "I said 'Sir, that's all I've ever wanted to do.'"

McKenry wound up playing for Middle Tennessee State for three seasons and earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors as a junior in 2006, when he batted .390 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs in 55 games.

His performance that year caught the eyes of the Colorado Rockies, who selected him in the seventh round of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft.

He's been a catcher and loving it ever since.

"It's a blast being back there. It's a lot of fun and it's just something that's in my nature," McKenry said. "I'm a high-energy guy. I'm not a guy that likes to stand around or sit still. I think being back there behind the plate is like being a manager on the field during the game. You're able to control every aspect of the game -- what pitch is going to be called, talking to the umpire and a lot of other things."

This season McKenry has teamed with veteran Rod Barajas to form an excellent duo behind the plate. The Pirates' pitching staff has responded to their guidance and has been a primary force behind the ballclub's surge to the top of the Central Division. At the start of the current homestand, Pittsburgh was fifth in the National League with a 3.55 team ERA.

"From top to bottom we have pitchers who know what they're capable of and they don't try to do more," McKenry said. "When you try to do more, sometimes bad things can happen.

"We have a bullpen that comes in and they know their role. They know what they need to do and they just try to go pitch by pitch and just get the outs one by one. They don't jump ahead. They focus on what they have to do and then move on to the next step. And the starters are the same way. They focus on one out at a time and one pitch at a time. That's what's keeping them rolling. It's been fun to be a part of, it's been fun to watch and it's especially been fun to catch."

Jim Lachimia is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.