Granite State Baseball Dinner: Now, McKenna has more stories to tellBy JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
November 17. 2016 8:37PM
Ryan McKenna had only a few stories to tell from his pro baseball career when he attended the Granite State Baseball Dinner a year ago. The St. Thomas Aquinas High School of Dover standout saw action in 10 rookie games in 2015 after being drafted straight out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft that same year.
Now with a full season under his belt, McKenna will attend Saturday’s dinner at the Radisson Hotel Expo Center in Manchester with more tales and a better perspective on what life in the pros is all about. The 19-year-old outfielder played 62 games for the Aberdeen IronBirds, Baltimore’s Low-A affiliate, and endured the standard highs and lows the majority of prospects are saddled with while getting acclimated with the new level of competition.
“This game will eat you alive if you let it,” said McKenna, whose batting average was as high as .276 halfway through the year before finishing out at .241. “One of the things I had to learn as a new player in pro ball was the mental side of the game. No matter what happens, good or bad, you can’t get too up or down on yourself. Tomorrow’s a new day with new at-bats and a new pitcher.”
McKenna’s batting line was rounded out with 26 RBIs, 29 runs scored and a team-leading 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts while playing the most games of any IronBird. The numbers likely would have been better if not for the second-half slip, which might’ve stemmed from playing the longest schedule of his baseball career.
The schedule is one of the many changes from high school ball that McKenna has had to adapt to on the fly. The choice to forego college put him somewhat behind in his development compared to others, but it was a decision that was never in doubt.
“Obviously you want to play as well as you can and compete with your peers, but they’ve played a lot more baseball than I have,” McKenna said. “There are instincts they have that I don’t have yet. And that’s fine. I’m here to pursue my dream and there is nowhere I’d rather do it than at the highest level of competition.”
Building off of what he did over the course of 2016 is chief among the ways to achieving that dream. McKenna and the Orioles player development brass met prior to him heading back to New England for the offseason to establish an outlook for next season. McKenna gathered from the conversation that he needed to concentrate on becoming a better top-of-the-order hitter, which means finding ways to get on base more and cut down on the 59 strikeouts he had in 220 at-bats.
“Ultimately you win ball games by getting on base,” McKenna said. “I need to do that more by getting those singles when the team is in a rut or just find a way to get something started. It’s something that involves having a more consistent swing and a better two-strike approach. That’s my main priority this winter and hopefully I can come out and display it in spring training.”
McKenna is one of many current and former pros that will attend Saturday’s dinner, which will open its doors at 5 p.m. with a silent auction and an autograph session with the honored guests from 5-7 p.m. The dinner and the evening’s program will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $80 and can be purchased at the Fisher Cats ticket office, by visiting www.nhfishercats.com, and by calling 641-2005.
Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and Bedford’s Chris Carpenter highlight the list of attendees, which also includes New Hampshire-bred minor leaguers Carson Cross, of Brentwood, and Kevin McGowan, of Nashua.
McKenna and Cross have been running youth camps together at USA Training Center in Portsmouth since the beginning of the month. The two have not only used the time to share their baseball knowledge with a younger generation, but it’s allowed them to create a bond and learn from each other as well.
“It’s kind of rare to have a pair of guys from this area and who are so close to each other playing in the pros,” said McKenna, who resides in Berwick, Maine, but attended St. Thomas, which is a private school. “It’s nice to hang out with someone going through the same process. I bounce things off him and get to see a whole different perspective on hitting from a pitcher.”