Former Rockie McKenry headed to Triple-A Pawtucket

April 4, 2011 | 12:37 pm  

The return call came Monday morning, understandably a few days after an attempt to reach catcher Mike McKenry. Things had been crazy, hectic, a blur following his trade from the Colorado Rockies to the Boston Red Sox. Now here was, just done playing a camp game and dropping off his rental car 90 minutes before his flight from Fort Myers, Fla., left and the next leg of his baseball journey began.

McKenry, who turned 26 on March 4, was headed for Pawtucket, RI where he will share catching duties on Boston’s Triple-A affiliate with Luis Exposito. The Rockies traded McKenry on March 29 for reliever Daniel Turpen, clearing a spot on their 40-man roster for Jason Giambi and solving their catching surplus at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Catchers Jordan Pacheco and Matt Pagnozzi will open the season there with prospect Wilin Rosario starting the year at Double-A Tulsa.

The Rockies projected McKenry to be a backup at the big league level. He hit .250/.438/.833 in big league camp, going 3-for-12 with a double, two homers, four RBI and five runs scored but given their catching inventory, the Rockies deemed him expendable. The possibility of a trade is the sort of front-office matter that McKenry made a point of never trying to figure out.

“I just show up to play every day,” he said. “And I don’t really worry about the situation I’m in or what’s going on, because at the end of the day, I can’t control any of it.”

So six days ago, McKenry showed up at minor league camp and saw he was in Colorado Springs’ lineup. And then he was scratched. And before long, McKenry found out the Rockies, who drafted him in the seventh round in 2006 out of Middle Tennesse State, had traded him. Initially, he discounted the connect-the-dots thinking of his fellow Rockies minor-leaguersm telling McKenry that he had been traded.

“And then my wife (Jaclyn) showed up, and she had tears in her eyes,” McKenry said. “And that’s when the reality set in of, ‘Wow, this just happened.’ Because I got scratched from the game and she told me everything. My agent (Damon Lapa) had already told her.”

McKenry spent five seasons in the Rockies system, playing at Colorado Springs last year (.265/.328/.424 with 10 homers and 49 RBI in 347 at-bats) and getting called up to the big leagues in September. With the Rockies, he went 0-for-8 with one walk in six games. McKenry made his first big-league start Oct. 3, the final day of the regular season, and struck out on each of his four at-bats in St. Louis. No matter, McKenry made it to the big leagues with the team that drafted him. Six months later, he was headed elsewhere.

“Some of the good-byes were really, really tough,” McKenry said. “But it’s a first-class organization.”

McKenry flew from Phoenix to Fort Myers. Meanwhile, his wife drove home to Tennessee. McKenry’s days seemed to be wound to a fast-forward pace, getting to a new place to finish spring training with a new team and meet new players and coaches. One of them is former major leaguer Chili Davis. “He’s the (Pawtucket) hitting coach,” McKenry said, “and I love him to death already.”

McKenry said he weighs 211 pounds, down from “a little over 220″ last year. In the past, McKenry said he “tried to do things that I’m not capable of doing.” But he benefited from conversations in Rockies camp with the likes of Jason Giambi and Ryan Spilborghs, players who have learned how to deal with playing every few days and who have developed “confidence in what you can do, because you can’t be somebody you’re not. I think I tried to do that. I think that’s where I made my mistake in the past of trying to do things that I’m not capable of doing.”

McKenry said it wasn’t as if he made any adjustment with his hands or tweaked his stance or altered his stride or made any mechanical change that has him pointed in a better direction. “I think I’ve grown up more than anything,” McKenry said, his confidence suitably high for the upcoming season.

It was no surprise that days later, McKenry returned a call from someone he knows in passing. He’s extremely polite and very professional, an individual with a deep faith and very giving of his time. Doing the right thing is a priority. As he finished speaking, there was a ringing in the background. It was the open door to his rental car, which McKenry was about to return.

He is headed to new territory. McKenry has never been to New England. He was supposed to play in the Cape Cod League in 2006 after his junior year but got drafted instead. Opening Day for the Pawtucket Red Sox, or PawSox, as they are called, is Thursday at home, the same day the Sky Sox open their season at home.

“I hate to leave a great organization, but I feel I came into a really great organization,” McKenry said. “I feel really blessed to be here and have the opportunity I have and, yeah, just looking forward to it.”

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