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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview Part 2: Brian McRae, Added Pressure

The Royals bench at Kauffman Stadium, July 6, 1993. Brian McRae played in that day's game, going 1 for 4. (G21D Photo)

Part 1: Call Up | Part 2: Added Pressure
Part 3: Great Feeling

Brian McRae chose playing baseball over playing football. That decision also meant he signed with the Royals, the team his father had long played for and starred with.

Still just 17 years old, the younger McRae was a pro. The next spring, he was taking swings with the big league Royals, and his father, Brian McRae recalled recently.

"There was a lot of added pressure on me just being there at 17-18 years old," McRae recalled to The Greatest 21 Days. "It wasn't what your normal minor league kid gets to do."

Soon, though, McRae was doing what a normal minor league kid did: staying in a college dorm, working his way through the low minors.

McRae spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his Kansas City-area home. McRae eventually did make the big league Royals, playing in 10 big league seasons. He is now the general manager of the Kansas City Sluggers, a non-profit traveling youth baseball program.

Taken by Kansas City 17th overall, the teenager played that first season in the rookie Gulf Coast League. For McRae, it was actually home.

Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie in 2011. The stadium opened in 1988, the year Brian McRae left the Florida State League for good. (G21D Photo)

The Royals played in Sarasota and McRae spent much of his youth in nearby Bradenton, a half hour away. That meant he could easily go home to his family. "That made the transition easier off the field," McRae recalled.

It was during his second season, in 1986, that McRae got his first taste of really being away from home. McRae played at short-season Eugene, the team staying on the University of Oregon campus.

McRae recalled good crowds each night, and Eugene just being a good place to play.

"That was a fun summer," McRae recalled. "I experienced being away from home for the first time, living on your own, doing all things that you need to do to prepare yourself to play day in and day out as an 18 year old, without your parents around. Just learning how to survive take care of yourself."

McRae played 1987 back in Florida, at Fort Myers. He then went to Baseball City in 1988 and moved up that same year to AA Memphis for the first time.

AutoZone Park in Memphis in 2008. AutoZone Park is home to the AAA Memphis Redbirds. Brian McRae played in Memphis from 1988 to 1990 for the AA Memphis Chicks. (G21D Photo)

McRae recalled the living conditions at each stop, with four or five players to an apartment. Players frequently moved up or down.

Players also tried to cook, or learn how to cook. They ordered out and hung out together, McRae recalled.

"We kind of just relied on each other because the guys were all in the same predicimant," McRae said. "You didn't play minor league ball to make lot of money."

McRae recalled the most he made in the minors was in 1990 at Memphis, $1,200 a month.

"Money wasn't why we were paying," McRae recalled. "We were playing for the chance to get to the big leagues."

McRae got there. But it took him into his sixth season. Still, starting out at 17, he made it before his 23rd birthday.

Along the way, he had to adjust to new positions. He started out briefly at shortstop. He then moved to second base through 1988. In 1989, he moved to his final position, outfield.

"It took longer to get through minor leagues," McRae recalled, "but I think because I spent so much time in the minor leagues, once I got to the big leagues, I didn't have to go back to the minor leagues."

Once he got there, he also immediately made an impact.

Go to Part 3: Brian McRae, Great Feeling

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