Talking Baseball, Life, and Milestones With Thomas McKenna
- Updated: May 18, 2015
Baseball is an amazing game, especially when a young boy can share a catch with his dad and it builds a love that lasts a lifetime.
Thomas McKenna was that young boy back in Bellrose, NY and the love that was embedded in his heart first started after a catch with his dad, “My father definitely was a big influence in my love for the game. I can remember being four years old and my dad playing with me in the backyard. We lived in a great baseball town and I had great memories playing at Padavan Preller Field from tee-ball all the way to college,” McKenna shares with me as we talk about his journey in the game.
The love of baseball took McKenna from the sand lots to the High School fields, staring at St. Francis Prep, in Fresh Meadows, NY, where he played a pivotal position in the infield modeling his game after his favorite player, Derek Jeter. The experience prepared him for the next level as a connection with a college manager opened a door to a great opportunity, “I was called by St. Joseph’s College baseball coach Jack Hans and he said he wanted me to be the starting shortstop for the Bears for all four years and I was surprised and happy at the same time. So I made a choice to attend the school because of the opportunity to play my favorite position,” says McKenna as he recounts his decision to attend St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, NY.
I absolutely love this game. I want to keep playing as much as I can. Every season has been a blessing and just love to be out there. ~ Thomas McKenna
The history of the St. Joseph’s College baseball team dates back to 2008 when the program first started. In their brief history, the program has experienced their most success the last three seasons of McKenna’s career, posting winning records in 2012 (18-17), 2013 (20-15), 2014 (29-11) and this past season finishing 24-18. They have enjoyed three straight USCAA Small College World Series appearances, including a 3-2 record in this seasons championship round finishing fourth, which brought them just two wins shy of a title.
Modeling the game after a legend is what most young ball players try to do, but understanding the opportunity to grow takes great knowledge for the way the game should be played. “Derek Jeter was my favorite player and I played shortstop until my sophomore year in college, but I got a little big and decided to take my game into the outfield to utilize my speed. My two favorite players are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and I wanted to use their success as a way to push me to become a better ball player,” shares the confident Bellrose native.
McKenna shared with me who were the main people in his life to help elevate his game to the next level, “My dad was definitely the first person in my journey to help me reach my goals, as well as my High School coach, Brother Rob Kent, who really cared about the person, more than just the player.”
McKenna continues, “Coach Scott Losche at St. Joseph’s, gave me a workout program, and it really elevated my performance and coach Jerry Sidman worked with me as hitter over the years and just made it simple for me. Coach Sidman taught me how to focus on my swing and to stay within myself. These are just a few, but every coach in my life has helped me with different aspects of the game.”
Entering college can become a stressful period in a young mans life, especially with adding a sport to his agenda, but having the right supporting cast can help make the transition that much easier.
As McKenna grew into a solid hitting outfielder, he remembered one game that stood out in his college journey that made him realize that he truly belonged at this level, “During the College World Series in 2014, the opposing team was up 2-0 early and then I hit a three-run home run to put my team up 3-2. They scored again to take a 5-3 lead, and then I hit another three-run home run to put us up 6-5. We lost the game in the last inning, but my second home run had me feeling like I was flying. The adrenaline was pumping through my body as I watched my teammates go crazy, it was a great feeling.”
During his college career, the 6’0″ senior became the school’s most prolific hitter as he put up big numbers with his bat each season. In his first season with the Bears, he batted .353 (49 for 139), with two home runs and 19 RBI and a .413 OBP. In his sophomore season, he topped his freshman year as he hit .397 (54 for 136), with 12 doubles, three triples, a home run, and 27 RBI and a .447 OBP.
The outfielder continued his excellent play in 2014, as he batted .367 (51 for 139), with nine doubles, two triples, three home runs, 31 RBI, and a .458 OBP. This past season, as the team reached another College World Series, McKenna did his part batting .392 (56 for 143), with six doubles, three triples, six home runs, 29 RBI and a .483 OBP.
McKenna, a career .377 hitter, also shattered the school record of 174 hits, “My teammates were always joking and telling me to just break the record already. It was a great feeling for me as well as for my dad, as I presented him with the game ball and he gave me a big hug and I knew that he was proud of what I had accomplished.” The Bears hits leader also recently reached another tremendous milestone when he recorded his 200th career hit which at this level is an amazing feat.
Michael Kondel, the Bears pitching coach recounts with me how difficult it is for anyone to reach the milestones that McKenna has achieved, “Anyone in their four-year career who is even close to 200 hits is remarkable. We try to play as close to a 40 game schedule a year, so roughly 160 games in four years would be comparable to one major league season. To have 200 hits is something that is hard to accomplish at any level, and to be able to witness it over the last four years has been awesome to watch.”
To finish out his college career, McKenna enjoyed a 26-game hitting streak which was snapped in the teams final game of the season in the USCAA Small College World Series. But now he turns his attention to the possibility of being chosen in the June Amateur draft, so I posed the question if he felt that he could perform as well at the next level, “I definitely feel confident; I feel that I have been progressing as a baseball player since my days in tee-ball. When I arrived in high school, I improved and in college I continued to grow as a hitter. I know that if I get a shot to play [pro ball] I will get better.” The new Bears hit king continues, “I am willing to learn and work hard, because that is the main thing you need as a player in order to succeed.”
With the draft quickly approaching this June, teams will be looking for a player that has the tools to get the job done and McKenna is that type of ball player as well as being a player that all coaches look for, “He came into college as a scrawny freshman and had a great first season. He was then told what he needed to focus on to succeed throughout his college career, like lifting, getting his swings in, and working on his fielding, and he listened,” says coach Kondel.
It is well known that coaches and scouts always look for that one special ball player that possesses five tools, but rarely does one find a player with a sixth tool, which is the ability to receive coaching and adhere to changes.
“He is an ‘OK coach.. you got it coach’ type of player. He loves and respects the game of baseball,” coach Kondel shares with me as he talks about what a special person Thomas McKenna is.
There is no question that McKenna has baseball in his future and as a player that has tasted success in college, the next level can be even sweeter for him. He is confident, humble, and a talented young man who has worked hard, taken the advice, and done it the right way, while at the same time understanding what it will take to continue to be successful on the diamond.
Just an amazing journey through the game of baseball that is only getting started for McKenna and with what he has accomplished so far, he is poised for a career of playing the game he loves.
That is a love that any dad would be proud of.
(Featured Photo Credit: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle News)
(Content Photo Credits: St. Joseph’s College (Brooklyn) Athletics)
|Thomas McKenna’s Career Stats|