Michael McKenry replaces Kent Tekulve on Pirates TV broadcast
Michael McKenry hasn't laced up his cleats and walked onto the PNC Park grass as a Pirate for almost five years. He spent only three of his 12 professional seasons in Pittsburgh.
But he's coming back to retrieve something.
"I always felt like I left a huge piece of my heart there," he said.
McKenry, who caught every minute of two 19-inning games for the Pirates in 2011 and '12, will replace Kent Tekulve as a studio/ballpark analyst on the AT&T SportsNet pre- and post-game shows.
He will work with hosts Stan Savran, Rob King and Dan Potash and will be part of the broadcast team of announcers Greg Brown and Joe Block, color commentators Steve Blass, Bob Walk, John Wehner and sideline reporter Robby Incmikoski.
His first appearance will be March 8 in a spring training game against the Detroit Tigers.
McKenry, nicknamed "The Fort," said he loved playing in Pittsburgh, but he wasn't fully aware of how the fans felt about him until the 2013 National League wild card game at PNC Park.
He didn't play that night against the Cincinnati Reds — season-ending knee surgery cut short his season — but he was introduced to the crowd along with his teammates. The reception he received shocked him.
"They gave me a standing ovation," he said. "They almost had to pause for (the introduction of) the next guy. I hadn't played in eight weeks."
That's just one of the reasons it's difficult for McKenry, 32, to give up a playing career that also included time with the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals.
He had offers, but he said it was time to try something new.
"I love playing. I don't want to stop playing," he said. "The game is always going to be a huge part of me. But God was pushing me to do something different."
McKenry said he never was much of a public speaker, but he got a taste of the broadcasting business in 2013 when he filled in for Incmikoski on a West Coast trip while he was injured.
"I guess I made an impression," he said.
Then, when he heard Tekulve was planning to step down after last season, McKenry starting thinking seriously about it.
"My wife (Jaclyn) challenged me to go up (to Pittsburgh) and do an interview," said McKenry, who lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn. "I was never a public speaker. It was something I had to overcome for a long time. I never thought I'd be able to do it or have the opportunity to do it."
He said his time behind the plate helped prepare him for the analyst's job.
"I was the guy who could see everything in front of him," he said. "I was the only player not in the field of play.
"I was the guy who was always trying to learn something. I thought that was my job as a catcher. I was always in the heads of the manager and the pitching coach."
McKenry ended his playing career last season with the Durham (N.C.) Bulls, a Class AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The Mickey Mouse Club," he said, without a hint of derision. "I was 10 years older than everybody."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.