McRae giving back in Cooperstown
It’s always a thrill when you get to meet a boyhood hero. And at the annual New York State Baseball Coaches Association Clinic at the Hall of Fame on Friday, I got to do just that.
My family moved to back to Kansas City in 1993, just in time for me to catch Brian McRae’s last two seasons as a Royal. Both of those seasons were the formative years when I chose players from the team being managed by Brian’s dad Hal – a fellow Royals legend – to be my “favorites.” During that two year span, I proudly declared notables like the younger McRae, Mike MacFarlane and 1994 Rookie of the Year Bob “The Hammer” Hamelin (and his coke-bottle glasses) as my favorites.
Retired for 13 years now McRae, now 44, lives in Kansas City and was in Cooperstown to talk to New York State coaches about their practices, approaches to the season and share tips that he used to play 10 seasons in the majors.
McRae said it had been since 2003 or 2004 since he’s been back to the Hall of Fame – a place he’d visited three times before. His favorite part?
“The Buck O’Neil statue, with me being a Kansas City guy and having a good relationship with Buck O’Neil during his time in Kansas City and I’ve spent time at the Negro Leagues Museum, so that’s kind of a neat thing,” he said. “That was once of the first things I saw when I came in. That was neat seeing that and Buck’s legacy will stand for as long as people are talking about baseball.”
During the clinic McRae talked hitting, defense, fundamentals and drills. He related his experiences to the coaches, giving them examples of what made him successful, for example McRae was an infielder-turned-outfielder. So when asked about how to keep young high school outfielders involved and interested, he said he brought his infielder mindset to the outfield.
“Every inning, I thought the ball was going to be hit to me,” he said. “I’m out here because I can do a job. I don’t want to be caught off guard. When the game is over, I’m mentally drained because I just calculated 150 pitches I thought were going to be hit to me.”
Aside from emphasizing defense – caring about your work in the field and not just at the plate – McRae talked about how he lets players use their natural talents and only highlights fundamentals such as making sure the batter is taking the shortest distance to the ball in order to square up, but he won’t mess with a player’s hands. Plenty of players have found success without “proper” mechanics, like Gary Sheffield’s wiggling bat or Kevin Youkilis’ bat held over his head.
“They found a way,” McRae said. “You wouldn’t teach that, but as you can see there are a lot of ways that you can be successful, there’s not a textbook way. So I don’t like the cookie-cutter way that everybody has to stand this way and everybody has to hold their hands this way. Because people have different shapes, sizes skill sets and you just have to find a way to work from there.”
For the former center fielder, clinics like Friday’s are almost par for the course – in some form helping younger players improve. While last week’s event was all about helping the coaches improve their programs, McRae runs a non-profit baseball organization in Kansas City called the Kansas City Sluggers, does speaking engagements through the Royals Alumni and this summer will coach a summer league team in the Coastal Plains League in Moorhead City, N.C.
“I enjoy working with the high school-age kids, college-age kids,” McRae said. “That’s where I feel I can relate the most and get the most out of them and where I feel my expertise fits. It keeps me fresh and keeps me young.”
Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.