PAWTUCKET — Mike McKenry doesn’t completely feel like a stranger in a strange land. The new PawSox catcher has St. Raphael alumnus Chris Iannetta to thank for that.
Acquired from Colorado on the final week of spring training, McKenry was busy packing up his belongings when Iannetta’s wife, Lisa, phoned McKenry’s wife. Recommendations on where to live in Rhode Island, as well as the location of hot spots such as the mall and worthwhile restaurants, were undoubtedly relayed by the Iannettas. However, the premise of the call was to wish McKenry all the best in his new assignment, which he appreciated.
“(Lisa Iannetta) called to congratulate us and give us a lay of the land,” shared McKenry during Tuesday’s Media Day gathering at McCoy Stadium. “It’s a great family and they’re great people. I just hope the best for Chris because he is really a great player and I think he’ll do well this year.”
McKenry was drafted in the seventh round by Colorado in 2006, the same year Iannetta made his major league debut with the Rockies. The pair became teammates for a short time last April when Iannetta was sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs after scuffling to begin 2010 (four hits in 30 at-bats). Seeing Iannetta at arguably the lowest point of the 27-year-old’s career made McKenry realize just how challenging it is to stick as a big league starter.
“I think (the minor league stay) was a time of growth for him. It was learning experience for him and myself,” said McKenry. “I think Chris grew and ultimately he’s going to pay dividends because of that.”
McKenry is a career .265 hitter in five minor league seasons with a single-season high of 22 home runs. He’s best known for his defensive ability, having gunned down 37 percent of opposing base stealers. He says coming over to a new organization can be daunting, yet the 26-year-old owns plenty of experience when it comes to acquainting himself with new teammates.
“Luckily Colorado put me on the map,” said McKenry, noting he’s played ball in Arizona, Hawaii and the Dominican Republic over the past few offseasons. “I’ve had the chance to learn about a lot of pitchers and do so fast. (Coming to the Red Sox) is another chance for me to do that.
“At the same time I’ve got to learn what they are like on- and off-the-field and try to be their best friend from top to bottom,” he continued. “I’ll spend a lot of time with Rich (Sauveur, Pawtucket’s pitching coach) and he’ll probably fill me in. I’m starting to get to know some of the guys already, know their tendencies and what they like to do in certain counts. I think it’s going to be a growing process throughout the year because ultimately you want to get better and have a chance to play in the big leagues for a long time.”
McKenry is expected share the catching duties with Luis Exposito, who is also new to Pawtucket and McCoy Stadium. After making his major league debut with the Rockies last year, McKenry would appear to be first catcher in line for a promotion to Boston in the event of an injury to Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek.
“I can only control what I can, but I’m going to help Luis as much as he needs help and I'm sure vice versa,” said McKenry. “Coming from the National League, at-bats are not as big a priority since there’s no DH. I’m pretty used to playing two games in a row, then having one off.”
Jose Iglesias was the main attraction at Media Day as cameras and recorders hovered around the shortstop phenom, chronicling his every breath. As the media crush around his locker died out, Iglesias was asked if he was surprised to learn he would be starting the year in Pawtucket rather than going back to Double-A Portland.
“Yeah, a little bit of a surprise,” responded Iglesias, a Cuban defector who was signed by the Red Sox in 2009. “It’s a new start and I’m in Triple-A, which is a good league.”
Rated the top prospect in Boston’s farm system by Baseball America, Iglesias says he’s used to dealing with the hype that comes with being a heralded commodity. The trick is to turn a deaf ear to what everyone is saying and writing about you, which should only intensify now that he’s less than an hour away from Fenway Park.
“Working hard every single day is the key. Being focused on what you want is more important than anything else,” he said. “I’m comfortable playing anywhere. If I was going to Boston tomorrow, I wouldn’t have a problem because I play hard.”
New PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler has unveiled his five-man starting rotation. Former Yankees reliever Alfredo Aceves will get the ball in Thursday’s opener against Rochester, followed by Kyle Weiland, Matt Fox, Andrew Miller and Brandon Duckworth.