ORONO – In an era of spin rate and velocity, numbers carry even more weight than ever when it comes to evaluating pitchers, but for former Hampden and UMaine righty Alex McKenney, his will to overcome far exceeds his WHIP, WAR or ERA.
“When it came down to making the decision, just being so close to home and knowing the coaches pretty well…It’ll definitely be a fun experience.”
That’s what Alex McKenney said back in 2016 after committing to play college baseball for the University of Maine.
Back then, familiarity and comfort were determining factors in McKenney’s decision to don the blue and white.
“I was like this guy’s going to be a dude. I thought so from the first day. He’s a huge human, really good arm. He was a little immature from his ability to take information in and digest it in a mature fashion…but he grew up,” said Maine baseball Head Coach Nick Derba.
Growing up doesn’t happen without hardship, and McKenney’s path to the minor leagues didn’t come without resolve.
“He’s learned the hardest part about baseball, is overcoming some struggles,” Derba said.
First, it was getting bone chips removed during high school. Then, in his first season with the Black Bears, McKenney was saddled with the most infamous surgeries a pitcher can have. The road back from Tommy John tested his fortitude, both mentally and physically, derailing his first two seasons with Maine.
“I definitely had times where I doubted whether or not I was able to do it or not whether or not I was ever going to be at the same level I was, and this year things just changed,” McKenney said.
A breakout 2021 wasn’t enough to get him drafted, but just when a return to Maine seemed certain, the Phillies extended an offer just minutes after the final round of the Major League Baseball Draft.
“Honestly, it just feels like a dream come true,” McKenney said.
In 2016, familiarity and comfort led McKenney to Orono. Five years later, that tight relationship led to a conversation with Derba that would prove instrumental in his decision to go pro.
“I’d love to see you back on the field being the best pitcher in the conference and help us get to a regional. But I told him, he can’t come back. He can’t come back because then it’s not the best thing for Alex McKenney,” Derba said.
Years of perseverance now manifest in one singular ticket–American Airlines Flight 5064–a one-stop flight from Bangor to Tampa where he’ll begin rookie mini camp before getting his minor league assignment.
“It’s a new experience, new place, new people around you. Definitely anxious and I think once I get into the environment. I’ll be fine but definitely not knowing what to expect is always going to cause nerves,” McKenney said.