Monday, June 1, 2009

Through the Eyes of...Brian McRae...Baseball Past, Present, and Future

On a huge parcel of land, in the middle of anywhere, stands a baseball field. The baseball field is surrounded by acres upon acres of corn field. The corn grows tall around the outfield and acts as a fence between dream and reality.

It's dusk now, and the field is illuminated by the setting sun.

And on that field are two men; a father and a son. And they are throwing a baseball. Back and forth to each other. Endlessly. They don't say much in between tosses. They just toss.

And catch. And toss. And catch.

No. It isn't a scene from Field of Dreams. And no it isn't John and Ray Kinsella. But the feeling is just the same.

The scene is one that is carved out of reality and though I created the scenario in the over-creative movie set of my mind, I'll bet you a brown bag full of acorns that Act III ended exactly like this.

Brian McRae created his own true to life Field of Dreams, with his father, Hal, appearing out of the corn field. And the two tossed and caught. And tossed and caught for hours, as the Midwest sun set around them.

"Dad was away most of the time, so we didn't get to do much until I was older", said the quiet, younger McRae, who played in ten solid major league seasons with the Royals, Cubs, Mets, Rockies and Blue Jays.

"It made people pay attention to everything I did, which I thought was strange when I was in grade school", added Brian speaking of his famous Dad, who wore the uniform of the Reds and Royals during an equally solid 20-year career as a player.

Brian, who was a .261 lifetime hitter with great speed and a solid glove, retired as a player in 1999 and has since worked in TV and Radio broadcasting.

"I have done broadcast work with ESPN, MLB.COM and the Royals. This is my first season not on air. I may do a few Royals pre-game radio shows, but am always looking for broadcast work."

Brian is also heavily rooted in the Kansas City community. "I am part-owner of two radio stations in the KC area. Sports Radio 810 WHB and Hot Talk 1510, as well as, being General Manager and Director of Player/Coach Development for the KCSluggers Baseball Program.

The Sluggers are a nationally reknowned baseball program, which is well respected in amateur baseball circles everywhere. Their reputation has developed from their hard-nosed style of play and the success that they've had against the top baseball organizations in the country.

The program began in 1991 with a group of 10-year-olds from the Blue Springs, Missouri area. The team moved each year through the different age brackets, with its nucleus of players remaining the same through nine years.

In 2000, the KC Sluggers had for the first time, two teams playing on the national scene. This past year the KCSluggers organization sponsored four teams (18u, 17u, 16u and 15u).

When McRae speaks of the Sluggers he overflows with pride, as if he is speaking of his very own kids.

"The program has been an invaluable asset for our college bound athletes. In the past nine years, over 150 KC Sluggers have graduated to play college baseball across the country in Junior College, Division II and Division I programs and 29 players have been chosen in the annual Major League Baseball Draft." said McRae.

"Amongst our draftees was Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year. In 2002, Blair Johnson became the highest pick in slugger history as the first pick in the second round by the Pittsburgh Pirates."

"In 2005, two other former KC Sluggers made their Major League debuts, Shaun Marcum with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Joey Devine with the Atlanta Braves."

"Our biggest challenge is raising enough money to pay for equipment. The families pay for the program and we have some great sponsors, but you can never have enough balls, bats, helmets and gear. If any one cares to become a sponsor, please give me a call."

He has also worked with Big Brothers/Big Sisters for 13 years and now coaches a summer league baseball program in Kansas City.

Though Brian loves his duel roles in broadcasting, and helping youngsters, his real love was playing the sport that Dad played. Brian's voice fills with energy and passion when he speaks about his decade in the game.

I asked Brian what has favorite major league city was. "I just enjoyed every single city," he sang. "You're in the big leagues."

"Old Tiger stadium was the worst though. The dugouts and the locker room weren't big enough for a team and all the equipment. I would get to the park around 1 pm and get dressed and sit in the dugout for a night game. Just to get out of the way."

Brian's finest season as a major League player was in 1998 when he played for the Mets. He hit .264 with 21 homers and 79 RBI, while also stealing 20 bases. For his career McRae hit 103 home runs and stole just under 200 bases.

He stole more than 20 bases in six of his ten MLB seasons.

I asked Brian his feelings on skyrocketing salaries and on the recent steroid situation.

"I think at some point baseball will have some type of "cap" system, but I don't know if having a "hard cap" would fly with owners or players."

As far as steroids go, we can't look backwards. What's done is done. We just need to make sure the mistakes of the past don't happen again. Baseball has always been able survive a lot during it's long history.

And it seems to me that if anyone has the right to talk about a long history in baseball, that would be Brian McRae.

No comments:

Post a Comment