TJ McKenzie ended his summer hot with Keene SwampBats

·5 min read

Aug. 6—TJ McKenzie stepped up to the plate for the SwampBats in the second inning of their game against the Upper Valley Nighthawks on July 26 at Alumni Field.

Whack. Homer.

Then again in the sixth inning.

Whack. Homer.

It was a two-home-run, three-RBI night for McKenzie, and the start of a hot streak to end the summer for the Vanderbilt University product. In the last six games of the season, McKenzie hit .333 (7-for-21) with three home runs and six RBIs.

"Really just trying to help the team," McKenzie said before the home finale against Vermont on July 29. "Just been sticking to my approach, looking to the middle of the zone and then just letting my mechanics and athleticism play."

Going into his senior year at Vanderbilt — one of the premier college baseball programs in the nation — McKenzie decided to spend his summer honing his skills in Keene with the SwampBats. He finished the summer hitting .196 (19-for-97) with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in just 28 games played.

"I've enjoyed this experience a lot, the NECBL being one of the top leagues," said McKenzie, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 39th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. "Get a lot of experience, get to see a lot of good talent. I got blessed with being on the Keene SwampBats. They put me up with a pretty nice host family. That's a really big part of it is having a host family where you can go back to and feel comfortable. Then, on the field, having Coach Mac {manager Shaun McKenna} to help me along here and there and just bring along some of the things I've been working on in terms of more consistency with the bat and bringing that back to Vandy."

"His at-bats have gradually gotten better and better and better," McKenna said. "And he's a physical specimen. The guy can flat-out run, he can track down balls, and his bat is starting to come around. And he's a fantastic human being. He's definitely one of those guys that you love to have on your team because he can explode any day. He gets on base, and he can run so well. But he's got the pop. He's definitely a special kid."

McKenzie — a Loxahatchee, Fla., native — stole seven bases throughout the summer and was a key defensive piece in the outfield, even robbing a home run in an 8-5 win over the Winnipesaukee Muskrats on July 19.

Even with all the on-the-field highlights, McKenzie said he's going to hold on to the off-the-field memories of summer ball more than anything else.

"Really just enjoying the time here. I feel like I remember a lot of stuff off the field, the memories I make and stuff like that," McKenzie said. "Stuff from the dugout and little things like that. Meeting a lot of guys from different schools and being able to create relationships with them is a big part of it. That's the biggest thing."

Family ties

Baseball runs in the McKenzie family, as TJ's older brother, Triston, has spent the last six years in the Cleveland Guardians organization as a pitcher, the last three years in the major leagues.

Matter of fact, Triston was just in Boston at the end of July to face off against the Red Sox.

TJ went down to see his brother in Boston during a SwampBats' off-day that week, but didn't get a chance to watch him pitch. The day his brother did pitch — Thursday, July 28 — TJ was busy going 2-for-2 at the plate with two RBIs, two runs scored and three walks in an 8-3 win over the Sanford Mainers.

Meanwhile, Triston pitched seven innings against the Red Sox, giving up four runs on six hits with six strikeouts.

Not a bad day for the McKenzie brothers.

"I was hoping to see him when he pitched, but it didn't work out with us having a game Thursday," TJ said. "I had a good game that day, so I can't complain about it."

Triston currently holds a 3.24 ERA this season through 18 starts.

TJ said he has a strong relationship with his brother, and getting a major league pitcher's perspective helps him with his approach at the plate as a hitter.

"It really helps," TJ said. "Getting that other side of it, that other perspective where it's a pitcher, seeing how he would attack me in a certain situation, really helps me a lot with my approach.

"Me and my brother talk pretty much every day, if not every other day. I talk about his outings, ask him how he feels about it, what he's been working on, what works for him," TJ added. "And same thing when it comes to my at-bats here. He's always like, 'Hey, if you do good, I want to see.' Because both of us are pretty humble, we don't like to brag about anything, but I'll be like, 'I had a really good day,' and he'll be like, 'Bro, tell me about it, tell me about it.' So we're really close in that aspect and bouncing ideas off of each other, things like that. Really helped me a lot."

With the summer season wrapped up, TJ heads back to Nashville, Tenn., to continue his collegiate baseball career with the Commodores at Vanderbilt, and he has one goal in mind:

"Right now, I'm just focused on getting back to Vanderbilt and just having a good season over there and hopefully win us a College World Series," TJ said. "That's the biggest thing, then take it from there."

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.