Welcome to the first installment of the RumBunter FortTracker!
If you are an avid reader of the best Pittsburgh Pirates blog here at RumBunter, you may recall my article on catcher Michael McKenry back on March 21. If you didn’t get a chance to read the original article, you can access it right here.
The FortTracker will be a weekly update on the career progress of “The Fort”, currently the Pirates #2 catcher behind veteran backstop Rod Barajas.
So, why the mini-obsession with the Bucs backup catcher? Allow me to explain.
Baseball is a sport that binds its fans to their players in a way unparallelled anywhere else in professional sports. We follow our teams on a daily basis for more than 3/4 of the calender year – from Spring Training through the 162-game regular season to (hopefully) the playoffs and World Series. Over the course of such a long season, every fan will develop a fondness for certain players. Be it because of their production, their style of play, their position, their number, or any of a million other specific reasons, baseball players tug at our heart strings in a way that harkens us back to the simpler days of our childhood. We all have memories of our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or any father-figure telling us tales of the players they followed growing up. Names such as DiMaggio, Mantle, Musial, Clemente, Stargell…..depending on where you grew up certain names are synonymous with the cities in which they played. As we began to understand the game in the same way as the men who told us these stories, our love and passion for certain players would enhance our connection to the game. For me – as I detailed in my “Growing up Buccos” series – it was Tony Pena and Andy Van Slyke, the two players who loomed large in my formative days as a baseball fan. Certain players just stir up the emotions of being a young fan in love with the game of baseball.
Every so often, a player will come around who reminds us of why we obsessed over baseball during our youth. For me, that player is Michael McKenry. When the Pirates acquired “The Fort” from Boston last June, even the most dedicated Buccos fans were scrambling online to Google the newest Pittsburgh player. In a season in which the team would use EIGHT different players behind the dish, it was McKenry who would provide the most memorable moments. With superb defense and a knack for clutch hits, the unassuming 5’10” 215 lb catcher became a fan favorite in a city that appreciates a blue-collar approach in its players. His first major-league homerun on July 8th capped an emotional comeback against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park that assured the Pirates a winning record at the All-Star Break for the first time since 1992. Within a few weeks of his arrival in Pittsburgh, the Pirates announce team and fans sporting freshly minted t-shirts at the ballpark had given life to a nickname for the 26-year old rookie – “The Fort”. It was a play on his surname combined with the name of a historic American monument – Fort McHenry. The name stuck in large part because of the way McKenry was able to block balls behind the plate. His ability to keep the ball in front of him would be a major asset to a young pitching staff just beginning to find its rhythm. A Pittsburgh cult hero had been born.
At 5’10” and 215 lbs., McKenry by far isn’t the biggest player on the team. He is not the most athletic, or the most gifted. He is simply a ballplayer. A gritty, hard-working, ballplayer who Pittsburgh fans can identify with as one of their own. As the Pirates began to make preparations for 2012, they signed veteran catcher Rod Barajas to be the starter, relegating “The Fort” to back-up duties. I believe that this was a mistake and that McKenry deserves a chance to be the Pirates starting catcher. McKenry is a throwback, a grinder, and one hell of a ballplayer who will not reach 500 major-league at-bats until sometime this summer. Every game that he plays seems to enhance his ability as a player, and I believe that if given the starting slot, McKenry could win a Gold Glove and would surprise many fans with his full-season hitting statistics. Hopefully, he will get that opportunity at some point during this season. The Pirates have started off very slowly offensively, with Barajas struggling to get his batting average over .200.
The era of “The Fort” will begin in 2012……until then we will closely monitor his career here at the FortTracker. I have no doubt that if all fans out there watch “The Fort” play and follow the FortTracker weekly, they will become fans of this young, talented catcher.
The FortTracker: Week One (April 5th – April 13th)
April 7 Pirates 2, Phillies 1 – PNC Park
McKenry saw his first action of the new season, pinch-running for Rob Barajas in the bottom of the 10th inning after Barajas led off with a double. After taking third on a sacrifice bunt by SS Clint Barmes, McKenry dahsed home to score the winning run on a walk-off infield single by OF Alex Presley.
April 8 Pirates 5, Phillies 4 – PNC Park
“The Fort” would receive his first start of the season, catching for starter James McDonald in a Pirates series-winning victory. At the plate, he was 1/4 with a single and a K.
April 12 Dodgers 3, Pirates 2 – Dodger Stadium
McKenry started and had a productive day at the plate, hitting his first homerun of 2012 – a towering shot to dead-centerfield. His daily line was 1/2 with a homerun and a walk. He scored his second run of the season on the homerun.
FortTracker Totals for Week of April 5-April 12
6 AB 2 Runs 2 Hits 1 Homerun .333/.429/.833
Rod Barajas Totals for Week of April 5- April 12
17 AB 0 Runs 1 Hit 4 K’s .059/.059/.118
FortTracker Summary for Week One
“The Fort” saw limited action during the Opening Week, but overall was more productive than starter Rod Barajas despite only 6 total at-bats to Barajas’ 17 total at-bats.
McKenry did not have any SB/CS numbers for Week One.
As the season progresses and the Pirates get away from the early season off days, “The Fort” should see a substantial increase in playing time to allow Barajas (36 years old) time off from behind the plate.
Pittsburgh Pirates Week Two schedule:
|04/13||@SF||4:35 pm||M. Cain|
|04/14||@SF||9:05 pm||B. Zito|
|04/15||@SF||4:05 pm||R. Vogelsong|
|04/16||@ARI||9:40 pm||J. Saunders|
|04/17||@ARI||9:40 pm||I. Kennedy|
Check back every Friday for the next installment of the FortTracker, as we enjoy the progress of future Pirates starting catcher, Michael McKenry.
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