Interestingly enough, general manager Jerry Dipoto’s first major hire for the Mariners is a man with whom he has no history.
“I met him for the first time last week,” said Andy McKay, the organization’s new director of player development.
McKay comes to the Mariners after serving as the peak performance coordinator for the Rockies since 2012. Before that he coached baseball at Sacramento City College for 14 seasons and taught physical education and business as well. With a new organization and an opening in the critical area of player development, Dipoto reached out to McKay, who admits that he hadn’t given thought to the position in Seattle. He was committed to what he was doing with the Rockies but was interested to see if the Mariners could be a fit.
“I went into the interview not going to hold back,” he said. “I was going to explain exactly what I believe and why I believe it and if they take it, great. If not, it was not meant to be. It seemed like a very good connection, it seemed we were on the same page. ‘Here’s what I am about. If you are interested, let’s keep talking.’ “
The conversation with Dipoto continued and McKay came to realize that their philosophies were similar.
“It was the way that he looked at the game, which for me is that in my opinion there is nobody who is really doing it well,” McKay said. “I think everyone is doing OK. I think that there is an enormous amount of gap between where we are as an industry and where we can get to. I have never been satisfied with the status quo. Where we are today is not where we are going to be tomorrow; there’s always a better way to do it. Even when you are doing it well, there is a better way. I’ve always connected to people who share that thought process and have the intellectual curiosity to challenge themselves and ask questions that maybe no one else is asking. To get better answers you have got ask better questions and a lot of time those questions are asking about ourselves and how we are doing our jobs. But I know from a teaching standpoint, the ability to take information and translate it into a student and have that student bring it to life through performance, there’s tremendous room for improvement. Across the board in all industries.”
It is not just a matter of hitting the ball farther, running faster or throwing a pitch with more precision. It’s about thinking better as well. That is about to become a prime focus in the Mariners organization.
“You enter professional baseball and in my estimation there are 10 percent of those players that can just separate themselves on physical ability, that are that good,” McKay said. “(Most) can’t separate themselves at the major-league level with their physical ability and so the game really does become 100 percent mental for those players. Their ability to focus on the right thing at the right time. Their ability to get through a long season without losing focus, maintaining confidence, which is so fragile in baseball.”
Like many players invested in the mental side of the game, McKay was first inspired by the book “The Mental Side of Baseball” by Harvey Dorfman, which he first read when he was 18 and struggling in baseball.
“It completely knocked me sideways and gave me a different angle to look at the game from,” he said.
The book opened the door to an endless pursuit of finding the mental edge.
“It’s ever-evolving. You never really have it. You are always having to stay current and there’s endless amounts of new research going on at all times opening new doors for you,” McKay said.
He’s translated what he has read into a usable program that can be implemented with players. There are methods and programs both in learning and evaluation.
“I like to take the idea that we can formalize that process and hold people accountable for their continuous growth and their never-ending improvement process. That will be a big part of what we are doing.”
The big picture, running of the farm system comes first, and to that end McKay plans to travel often to the affiliates and work side by side with the coaches.
“You are trying to develop authentic relationships with people and it is a lot easier to do that when you are not separating yourself from the group,” he said. “When I am out on the field I want to coach, I want to be a part of that staff. It’s called player development but it’s coaching development as well. Coaches have to get better, coaches have to improve, coaches have to be coachable. If you are working in our department, we are all a work in progress and everybody has got to get better. Everyone will get better.”
It will take time to implement, but McKay comes to the organization with a vision.
“The culture you are trying to create is more important than the strategy,” he said. “If you believe that, then you go to work each day knowing that I am fighting for my culture. I am fighting to create a workplace environment that can ultimately mold people. To do that you have to connect with people. I have to know people, I have to communicate, I have to get them to trust me and that takes time, but you can cut that time down considerably if you show up each day knowing that this is my priority. I have to build a culture and I feel confident I can do that.”