My map tells me that Park University sits a mere 17.9 miles from Kauffman Stadium. Countless careers blossom and fade right there in that major league ball field, all while diehard fans and commentators count home runs, steals, RBIs and outfield assists.
Brian McRae grew up in the clubhouse of Kauffman Stadium. The son of legendary All Star and former Kansas City Royals manager Hal McRae, he watched the likes of his father, George Brett and Frank White make history and later joined them in the ranks as a center fielder. He stole more than his fair share of bases and made history, with his dad, as one of only four major league players to be managed by his father.
Despite his homegrown star status, however, McRae would rather talk about life lessons than baseball stats. True to form, it’s what he’s learned in the years between Kauffman Stadium and Park University, through his time as a player, a broadcast personality and a coach that he concentrates on what he hopes to bring to his new position as an Assistant Coach of the Park University baseball team.
McRae began his coaching career in 2008 when he managed KC Sluggers, a showcase baseball organization for 15-to 18-year- old young men. It was his time spent coaching college summer teams in North Carolina in 2011-2012 that sparked his interest in coaching at the college level.
“Brian saw us play in the past and had worked with kids in this age group so it was a great transition for him,” says Cary Lundy, Park University’s head coach for the past 11 years. “He has said for a while that he has more to offer this age than the older players and we thought this was a perfect fit for him to join us. He certainly has a lot to offer these guys and the kids really seemed to get a lot from working with him.”
McRae says he can’t coach the way he was coached. “So much has changed over the years, and what I’ve found is that if we focus on only mechanics we’re missing the chance to teach these kids what really matters,” he says. “It surprised me, sometimes being on road trips and seeing how the kids just didn’t know how to interact with hotel staff or how to act responsibly. I realized that with the technology we have these days, the kids are getting technical training that surpasses what I had, but we’re missing out on the people skills they also need.”
Lundy credits McRae with bringing a lot of value to coaching. “Brian brings a lot of knowledge and expertise to our program, having played at the major league level,” says Lundy. “He has been through everything in the sport and it’s very beneficial for our young players to learn from someone like Brian.”
McRae says he wants to bring more to his coaching philosophy at Park University than just technical prowess; he hopes that by sharing what he has learned, not only in the major leagues, but as a broadcast personality and now a father, that he can help his players navigate life, not just the game.
“I think that sometimes they just need someone to show them the way,” he says. “I talk to them about representing, and I talk to them about the jersey they wear. I remind them that the front of the jersey is all about their school, and the back of the jersey is their family name. When they put on that jersey, it’s not just about them; it’s about showing what their school, their family and their club is all about.”
“I ask them what they want people to remember about them, and remind them to look at what they’re telling people by how they act,” he says. “It’s about the impression you leave after you’ve walked away.”
The impression of McRae as a coach is positive. Derek Gordon, brother of current Kansas City Royals left fielder and Golden Glove Alex Gordon, pitches at Park University. He appreciates that McRae always reminds him to have a purpose in what he’s doing.
“He explained to me to not just throw my bullpen, but to have a purpose so that when the time comes to perform, I can,” says Gordon. “He’s a funny guy and he’s really down to earth, which is some- thing you wouldn’t expect from someone coming from the majors to assistant coaching at an NAIA school. He’s an overall genuine guy, and he doesn’t sugar coat anything. He tells it like it is.”
McRae was the 17th pick in the first round for the Royals in 1985. An accomplished baseball and football player, McRae’s original intent was to attend the University of Kansas on a football scholarship. When the Royals offered him a hefty signing bonus, he changed directions and bypassed college to spend nine years in the majors. All told, he graced the rosters of the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago Cubs, the New York Mets, the Colorado Rockies and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The prospect of completing his college degree and becoming a head coach at the University level is what brought McRae to Park University.
“Park is close to home, and they gave me an opportunity to not only be in a program that I respect but also the chance to earn my degree,” he says. “I won’t lie and tell you that it’s not intimidating, going back to school at my age. But Park has made the transition easier.” McRae is pursuing a degree in psychology.
The hardest part, he says, is adjusting to how technology has changed the classroom since he was last a student. He jokes that he was accustomed to actually writing papers; now instead of taking notes on a notepad he is using a ThinkPad and learning how to upload homework online.
Technology learning curve aside, he admits that the timing was just right to make this career transition to college coaching.
“If this opportunity had come four or five years ago, I don’t know that it would have worked,” he says. “But now I know there’s more I can do, and there’s more I can offer in the long run to impact the lives of these players. Because of my life experiences, I can help them with what’s right and what’s wrong.”
If his coaching history is any indication, he’ll be able to do just that. McRae says that he’s coached more than 300 kids over the years and still stays in contact with approximately half of them. Some are still playing, some have moved on to other endeavors, but they regularly keep McRae apprised of what they are doing and sometimes ask for guidance. He says it is fun to see them grow up and to follow them as they reach for their goals,no matter what those goals might be.
“I want to see them improve on the field, but these days kids are more mature on the field than they are in real life,” he says. “There are high expectations to compete, and sometimes the basics get lost. I want to teach them the big picture, and why they can’t have one without the other.”