Baseball: Former catcher Michael McKenry announces retirement at 45th annual Groundhog Day Luncheon

Photo by Anthony Fiorella / MTSU Sidelines

Photo by Anthony Fiorella / MTSU Sidelines

The Middle Tennessee State baseball program hosted its 45th annual Groundhog Day Luncheon in the Student Union Building on campus Friday morning.

The biggest news of the day was former catcher Michael McKenry returning to his alma mater to announce his retirement.

“I followed my heart and talked with (my family) and know I’m doing the right thing,” McKenry said. “I know I could probably still play, but I’ve always wanted to walk away on my own terms.”

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McKenry, who announced his retirement after 12 years in professional baseball, was presented with a commemorative bat from McGuire. The alumnus then accepted a volunteer position within the program as their Director of Player Development.

In 311 major league games (7 seasons), McKenry was a lifetime .238 hitter that had 29 home runs and 103 RBI. Behind the plate, he boasted a .988 fielding percentage and threw out 18 percent of runners trying to steal on him in his career.

“I got to catch (former MTSU teammate) Hunter Adkins’ AAA debut and (former MTSU teammate) Ken Roberts’ big league debut,” McKenry said. “Things like that are things that you never forget.”

After an invocation was offered at the beginning of the festivities by redshirt-junior pitcher Tyler Holcomb, head coach Jim McGuire took the podium along with Murfreesboro’s favorite groundhog: Raider III.

As McGuire thanked everyone for their support, the crowd enjoyed the traditional serving of ham hocks, white beans and cornbread.

“I know one of the biggest reasons everyone comes to this event is the food, and the menu has been the same for 45 years,” McGuire said.

McGuire took a few moments to present a tribute to Murfreesboro native Luke Denson. Denson, a young fan who was very close to the program, passed away at the age of 12 in October from Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome.

“(When Luke passed), it was a difficult time for his family, and we’ve been very involved with them,” McGuire said. “He will always be a Blue Raider.”

Radio play-by-play announcer Dick Palmer was recognized by McGuire for earning a lifetime achievement award from the Tennessee Broadcasters Association.

Assistants Tim Donnelly and Caleb Longshore then took the podium and introduced this year’s team along with the professional players who made it back to campus.

Some of the alumni that made it back were: Bryce Brentz (Boston Red Sox), Adkins (Tampa Bay Rays), McKenry (Tampa Bay Rays), Matt Blackham (New York Mets), Riley Delgado (Atlanta Braves), Cody Puckett (Oakland A’s), Zac Curtis (Philladelphia Phillies), Ronnie Jebavy (San Francisco Giants) and Heath Slatton (San Francisco Giants).

McGuire then presented the “Railbird” jacket which is given annually to a person who impacts the program. This year’s jacket was awarded to Wynnifred Counts. Counts has served as the Associate Director for MTSU’s Student Athlete Enhancement Center and has worked for the university for 27 years.

“She’s been an academic adviser for baseball for all these years,” McGuire said. “She handles 35-40 players a year, and has developed a program that we currently use. That has had tremendous success.”

Before events concluded, infielders Aaron Aucker and Drew Huff took the stage to share some moments they have had in the community over the off-season. The Blue Raiders participated in an Albert Pujols Foundation event in December, and at multiple events at David Price’s Miracle Field in Murfreesboro – a baseball stadium that can accommodate special-needs children, and have stayed active in local schools.

Middle Tennessee begins the season at home on Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. against the Western Illinois Bulldogs.

Follow MTSU sports reporter Anthony Fiorella on Twitter at @A_Fiorella74 for more coverage.

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