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Sports

Baseball: A good catch – perhaps destined to be a catcher, Andrew McKenna emerges as Nazareth stalwart

Senior leader a key part of Roadrunners' 11-1 start

Nazareth's Dominic Milano (2) is congratulated by catcher Andrew McKenna after scoring in the top of the fifth inning, giving the Roadrunners a 4-2 lead over Ridgewood during of the IHSA Class 3A Nazareth regional championship at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg on June 2. Nazareth won 4-2 to advance to the super-sectional at North Central College in Naperville on June 4, 2018.
Nazareth's Dominic Milano (2) is congratulated by catcher Andrew McKenna after scoring in the top of the fifth inning, giving the Roadrunners a 4-2 lead over Ridgewood during of the IHSA Class 3A Nazareth regional championship at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg on June 2. Nazareth won 4-2 to advance to the super-sectional at North Central College in Naperville on June 4, 2018.

Andrew McKenna was destined to be a catcher.

At least that’s what his dad, Stephen, emphasized to him at a young age.

The younger McKenna lived up to his father’s prediction. Andrew McKenna, in his third year starting at catcher for Nazareth, committed to play at Holy Cross next season.

Less than a month into his final prep season, McKenna credited his father for steering him in the right direction.

“I played pitcher and basically anywhere on the field when I was younger,” McKenna said. “But I wasn’t very talented. Nothing clicked. I was pretty uncoordinated. I was short and stubby. Baseball just didn’t come naturally to me when I was young. 

“My dad said, ‘You are short and not very fast, but you have a good arm, so let’s put you behind the plate.’ I just put my nose down and kept working.”

McKenna said he was immediately captivated by the role of a catcher. He liked being in command, able to dictate a game and being involved in every play. Playing catcher also runs in  his household, McKenna said.

“I just loved catching, for it was something about being the guy,” he said. “No one wanted to be a catcher when I was younger. I was lucky that my dad was right. I made a few jumps and got better.”

McKenna is now a stalwart in the Nazareth program.

He played a big part in Nazareth’s stunning comeback win over Antioch in a Class 3A supersectional last season. He drilled a two-run home run, just his second of the season, to spark a seven-run, seventh-inning rally that led to a 10-9 win. The Roadrunners finished in third place after beating Troy Triad — to earn the program’s fourth top four state placing. McKenna batted .423 with 11 RBIs last season.

“Last year’s run was something special,” he said. “We were very close and everyone battled. We knew we had something special at the beginning of the year. This offseason, we all came prepared to work on the little things to get better.”

Nazareth coach Lee Milano said he’s encouraged by the strong start despite losing numerous standouts from last season’s team. 

The Roadrunners, 11-1 after a 10-6 loss to Carmel, have five players currently committed to play in college next season, led by Louisville-bound pitcher Michael Prosecky.

“I think this group is deeper than last year with a lot of options as far as different positions and the mound,” Milano said. “Andrew’s one of our leaders. He’s very carefree and outgoing. Every year he has stepped up more as a leader. His swing is better and he leads our team in RBIs this year. He has stepped up and has a more complete game.”

McKenna said he’s challenged by becoming a senior leader for a program with high expectations. He admitted catching an elite pitcher, such as Prosecky, is a tough task that requires extreme mental and physical preparation. He recently took up boxing to break up the monotony of baseball-specific workouts in order to add a different dimension to his training.

“Michael is one of the best that I’ve caught, and I’ve caught Class AA and AA pitchers,” McKenna said. “He’s got the most natural raw skills. It’s really fun and tough. I’ve got to be at the top of my game. He throws so hard and got so much break and bite on his pitches. As a catcher, you can really see pitches from a different perspective. It’s really fun to watch.”

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