It’s been pretty cool reconnecting with some of the unique personalities I worked with during my quarter century with the Cubs – as I’m on a mission to track down players I worked with to talk about their playing days and find out what they’re up to now.
I recently caught up with Brian McRae – who played for the Cubs from 1995-1997.
Chuck: When I look back on your time with the Cubs, I remember somebody who would have knocked over a wall to score. You brought a certain intensity and fire to the field.
B-Mac: “I just learned to play the game a certain way at a young age. Being around baseball with my father with the Reds in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – and then when he got traded to the Royals – those teams played with a certain type of energy … enthusiasm … effort. They weren’t the most talented teams, but their players always played hard. That’s how I grew up – try to outwork people and try to bring the most energy to the ballpark every day.”
Chuck: Your dad, Hal, played until 1987 – which was only three years before your major league debut. You really didn’t get a chance to NOT grow up in baseball. Was there ever a chance you wouldn’t go into the family business?
B-Mac: “We played in some spring training game together in 1986 after the Royals had won the World Series in 1985. He retired in 1987, and I got to the big leagues in 1990. I actually liked playing football better than baseball growing up. Instead of going to Kansas and getting beat up in football, I decided to take the safer sport. Football was something that I liked to do because nobody expected me to be good at it – because my dad was a baseball player. It seemed everything I did in baseball was expected. I didn’t get the credit for working hard and developing my skills in baseball. In football, I got a little bit more enjoyment out of it. I enjoyed playing it in high school because it wasn’t the sport my dad played. My accomplishments in football were because of what I did.”
Chuck: Looking back, any regrets that you didn’t go the football route?
B-Mac: “No. I wasn’t going to be an NFL player. I was going to maybe be a decent college football player; that would have been about it. They told me I would have a chance to play football and baseball in college. As you know, if you go to a four-year school on a football scholarship, they’re going to make you play football the whole time. And that was probably what was going to happen. I don’t regret it. In the minor leagues, maybe I regretted it a little bit. Instead of the 80,000-90,000 watching college football games, there were 8 or 9 people watching some of my minor league games.”
Chuck: Growing up, what was it like being the son of a major league baseball player? Your dad was young when you were born – so you were old enough to know what you’re dad did for a living.
B-Mac: “I didn’t think it was anything different from what other parents did when I was young. I thought that my dad went to work, my mom went to work – she was a school teacher – and I didn’t think it was anything different. I started hearing it when I got to middle school – and people started to make a big deal about my dad playing ball and games being on TV. I just thought my dad had a unique job where he got to work and play baseball. His hours were not normal; I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. But that was the way he took care of the family. My dad just had weird hours and his job was outside.”
Chuck: What was it like when your dad brought you with him on “Bring Your Kid to Work Day?”
B-Mac: “I was allowed to be bat boy, ball boy, and work in the clubhouse. I did all those things once I got to be around 8, 9, 10 years old. That was something that was a joy for me. If I did well in school, then I was able to tag along. My spring break – I got to spend at the ballpark with my dad. Get up early in the morning … go to the ballpark … work there … then I could hit in the cage and take ground balls and fly balls and do things like that. It was my incentive to do well in school. If I did well, I could hang out with a big league team – and be bat boy or ball boy or shine shoes or pick up jocks or wash clothes. I thought that was such a cool thing to do.”
Chuck: I’m going to jump over to your Cubs days. You really won me over in one of your first games as a Cub. In fact, you single-handedly won a game late. You hit a ball up the middle off the pitcher’s glove – then stretched it into a double. You then stole third and came around to score when the catcher threw the ball into the leftfield corner. Do you remember plays like that?
B-Mac: “I remember it was during my first series there. I just remember it was cold. The big thing I remember about playing there early in the year – and one year it was like that until June – was how cold it was. To complain about it wasn’t going to do you any good. You just had to deal with it. Even though Kansas City and Chicago aren’t that far in proximity, the temperature difference was huge – especially early in the year. So I always wanted to not let the temperature affect me. I didn’t wear long sleeves; I wore short sleeves all the time during the cold weather to mentally tell myself that this is not bothering me. Just trying to do as much as possible to stay energized and not worry about the weather. Just keep the focus on baseball – and not the wind or cold or sleet or rain … all the things we had to deal with in April and May in Chicago.”
Chuck: But in the middle of the year, you wore long sleeves.
B-Mac: “Yeah, that was an option. I liked to sweat. Once I broke my first sweat in the long sleeves, it cooled me down – and I wasn’t sweating much anymore. I found it worked just as well as having something cold on my arms during that time of the year. I didn’t really see it as making me feel any worse than you already were. I remember the summer of ’95 when they had the power outages because it was so hot, and we had a night game against the Reds when the heat index was something like 115 – The long sleeves cooled me off and I felt pretty good.”
Chuck: Then to top it off, you punched little holes in your baseball cap.
B-Mac: “I’d do that and with my T-shirts, too. Give it some circulation. The uniforms you wear aren’t always conducive to playing in the heat, so you have to do some things with your undergarments or your cap to try to keep cool and let the heat go. Heat rises out of your head. If you have that hat on, it makes your head boil. So I’d poke little holes in there.”
Chuck: I remember you walking around the clubhouse all the time in a T-shirt that read “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” Is that still how you operate?
B-Mac: “I sleep now. I’m close to 50 years old. When I got to the big leagues, they told me I’d be there for two weeks. I wanted to make sure that I got the most out of those two weeks in the big leagues, and that’s how I went about the 10 years I played in the majors. They told me two weeks. Ten years later, I was still there. I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of everything that I could take advantage of as a big league player. I enjoyed my friends coming to visit me and my family getting to see me play. I enjoyed traveling to different cities. I wanted to enjoy everything. I liked the day games in Chicago, because that forced me to get my rest a little bit. It forced me to make a schedule and stick to it. I’m a morning person. I didn’t like sleeping in. I liked getting up and walking around the city, checking things out. I enjoyed Chicago and seeing the museums. Playing the day games allowed me to do more – because after games I could still check things out at a decent hour.”
Chuck: We talked multiple times during your Cubs career about your post-baseball days. You seemed to have an idea back then of what you wanted to do.
B-Mac: “I was hoping I could do something in the game – but not as stressful as playing the game. I played 15 years – five years in the minor leagues and 10 years in the big leagues – and the style of play that I played was rough on my body. I never was on the DL. I didn’t spend much time not playing. So I beat up my body. By the time I got done playing at 33, I was beat up mentally and physically – but I still wanted to be around the game. I was hoping I could be a broadcaster – then later on go back and coach when I was older. I started to prepare myself for those days while I was still playing – especially in Chicago, doing some of the broadcast work and seeing the other side. Seeing if that was something that I could do … if it was something I enjoyed … and if I was any good at it.”
Chuck: And you tried your hand at broadcasting for a while.
B-Mac: “I enjoyed it, but I like being at the ballpark. With ESPN, they wanted me to do more studio work. I just thought that wasn’t for me. I like doing games. I like being around the players. I like being around the atmosphere. I figured that when I’m older, I can do studio stuff. I enjoy everything that comes with being around the ballpark. After ESPN, I worked for mlb.com – and that allowed me to be around the park. Then I did some Royals broadcasts – about 30-to-35 games and some trips. Those were things that I liked doing. It wasn’t every day. It was enough to keep me around. In 2008, mlb.com merged with the MLB Network, so all the guys working for mlb.com got reassigned to do other things. Then the Royals Network got bought out. When all that happened, my broadcasting opportunities were slim – and that’s when I started coaching summer baseball. I liked it. I then thought about going back to school – which I did. I’m now back in school at Park University – and I get to coach there. For the last five years, my main focus has been finishing school and coaching a little bit.”
Chuck: Nowadays, along with Park University you are the program director for the Kansas City Sluggers Baseball Program, a travel organization. Give me your elevator pitch about the KC Sluggers.
B-Mac: “We have 20 teams at all age groups that play all summer and spring. We have around 300 kids in our organization. Since I’ve been involved, we’ve had four kids drafted – and three are playing minor league ball right now. The goal is to get them into college. I want to ensure that kids in the area have a place to play no matter what their skill level is. There are 1,600 colleges at every level from Division I to junior college and NAIA that play baseball. If you want to continue to wear a baseball uniform for a few more years after your high school career, I’ll find some places where you can still play and get an education.”
Chuck: Are you enjoying it?
B-Mac: “Yes, I do. I enjoy it. The big thing is when kids come back to Kansas City – or we correspond through text and email – and they tell me what’s going on with their life. And they talk about how much fun they had, and how much they learned in summer ball. It wasn’t about baseball, per se, but about things they had to deal with in life. That’s the biggest thrill for me.”