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Fri, Nov 21, 2014

Former Blue Raider stands out in Pittsburgh

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Growing up former MTSU standout Michael McKenry dreamed about playing against the Atlanta Braves.

On Tuesday night, his dream came true.

“It’s a dream come true,” said McKenry, who is the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, about-facing the team he grew up watching as a kid. “It was awesome playing against the Braves. That was my favorite team growing up. It has been a good experience.”

By early Wednesday morning – thanks to a blown call in the 19th inning that cost the Pirates the game – McKenry’s dream turned into a nightmare.

Heading into the 19th, the score was tied 3-3, and the Braves had runners on the corners.

Braves pitcher Scott Proctor hit a grounder to Pirates third baseman and former Vanderbilt star Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez fielded it and threw it to McKenry at home. According to video replays, McKenry tagged out Braves runner Julio Lugo.

However, umpire Jerry Meals called him safe and the Braves won the game.

“I was kind of baffled,” McKenry, who played all 19 innings that night told MLB.com after the game and. “I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I told him ‘I tagged him. I tagged him.’”

The following day, after seeing video replays, Meals admitted to Pirates MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch that he made the wrong call.

Right now, the Pirates are in the middle of the National League Central division race. Pittsburgh has not made the playoffs since 1992, when they lost to the Braves in heartbreaking fashion in Game 7 of the NLCS.

As of Thursday, the Pirates (53-49) are only 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the division lead.

McKenry said the reason why the team is playing so well is because they are having fun.

“You play this game to win and have fun and we are doing both,” he said.

According to Langosch, who covers the team on a daily basis, the Pirates have been pleased with his performance, especially since he took over after the top three catchers on the depth chart went down with an injury.

“The job he has done has been huge to the Pirates being able to sustain where they are despite a slew of injuries,” Langosch explained. “The pitching staff has been the backbone of this club this year. After losing the top three catchers on the depth chart, the Pirates were concerned that mixing and matching catchers from the Minors could take the Pirates out of their rhythm. It hasn’t one bit.”

However, regular catcher Ryan Doumit hopes to return to the club next week after being out since May 30 with a left ankle fracture.

The Pirates might look to share duties between the two behind the plate, Langosch said.

McKenry, who in his short career has also spent time with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, said playing catcher for the Blue Raiders has helped him during his five-year professional career.

“Head coach Steve Peterson had a pro-ball mentality when it came to catchers, so it was great,” he said.

While being recruited by MTSU after he graduated from Farragut High School in 2003, Peterson told him: If you do not want to be a catcher, do not come to MTSU.

In his final season with the Blue Raiders in 2006, he batted .390 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI’s.

His performance earned him first team All-Sun Belt and third team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

This weekend the Pirates headed to Philadelphia for a three-game series against the Phillies.

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