By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Arizona Diamondbacks’ first-base coach Dave McKay is known for his meticulous strategies and analyses.
His efforts are appreciated, and they were missed during the 2021 season after he fell, broke a rib and lacerated his spleen in a fall. The 72-year-old beloved McKay was surprised by the response to his injury.
“I don’t know why,” the subdued, polite McKay says about the buoyant reaction to his return. “I’m just out there doing what I love to do. It was nice to know that they (fans) remember who I was last year.”
Back in the swing of things, McKay remains passionate about the game that captured his attention as a teenager in Vancouver.
“I always loved the game,” he says. “I’ve always loved the game as a player, and I think I love it even more as a coach. I like helping players with the little things — the struggles and the ways I found to get through them.
“The exciting part is knowing I can help this guy with this. I can speed things up; just making the player better. It’s like any job. I’m a nitpicky guy, whether it’s a perfectionist or whatever. I keep them on a straight line doing all the things the right way so they will be better players.”
McKay does so with the utmost respect. When players arrive on first base, he shares his wisdom, often with his hand on the athlete’s side.
Catcher Carson Kelly can attest to that.
“Mac has been great,” Kelly says. “He notices the little details about baserunning in the game. I’m not the quickest guy out there, but I’ve found ways to be more efficient on the base path to get from base to base much quicker.
“Those little details can mean being safe at home or being out by one step. He’s very good looking at the small details to help us get an advantage.”
Kelly doesn’t diminish McKay’s position.
“Baserunning is one of those things that get overwritten a little bit,” he says. “Most people are worried about hitting and defense and things like that. But baserunning is extremely important. He takes it seriously, and we do as a team. I feel like it helps us get that little advantage when we’re going around the bases.”
McKay is modest about compliments. Looking back on the 52-110 2021 season, he says he just looked forward to cleaning it up this year — in person.
McKay fell against a metal railing in the dugout, breaking a rib and lacerating his spleen during the March 8, 2021, Spring Training game against the San Francisco Giants.
“The one thing I learned last year is you could text and get on the phone and talk to people,” he says with a sly grin.
“It’s not even close, though, to looking them in the eye and saying, ‘Are you hearing what I’m saying?’ Then, they get your point. I get to watch them all day, rather than just watching on television and getting shots of them here and there.”
He says he’s impressed with the success of new pitching coach Brent Strom, a longtime Tucson resident.
“I think the pitching coaches have the toughest job in the world,” he says. “And Torey (Lovullo, manager) is so solid. I have never, ever seen him panicking.
“He just shows a lot of trust in his players. The players comment all the time that they know he has their backs. I know he has our backs, too, as coaches. He’s a believer. He has a good way of communicating with players. He turns on that switch and you’ll see the other side. When he does get upset, everybody listens like deer in headlights.”
McKay didn’t play high school baseball growing up in the Vancouver area. He focused more on soccer and basketball; baseball wasn’t a priority.
“When I graduated, I played in a tournament in Oregon, some college coach saw me and offered me a basketball and baseball scholarship,” he says.
“At Creighton University, all of a sudden, I started to enjoy playing the game that I was now learning how to play. It’s crazy to think that now I’m here, 52 years later, and I’m still wearing baseball uniforms. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I just love the game of baseball.”
He loves how he can help his players improve, thanks to Tony LaRussa, whom he calls a fellow nitpicker.
“There are so many veteran coaches he could have had, instead of this mid-30-year-old guy,” he recalls about his hiring by LaRussa.
“But he saw somebody who was willing to do the things he said and work at it. He helped me a lot. I spent 26 years with him, and I learned a ton from him.”
Third baseman Josh Rojas says McKay has helped him improve his game.
“He comes to us every day with tips and tricks on what the pitchers do that they don’t even know they do,” says Rojas, a West Valley native.
“I just, 5 minutes ago, had a meeting with him on the pitcher for tonight, what to look for, things we might see and what will give us an edge on getting extra bases.”
To McKay, keeping an eye on his runners as well as the defense is a game.
“Last night we tried to steal a base and tried to get a jump on it,” he says about a Miami Marlins game. “Don Mattingly was a little smarter than I was. We were thrown out. It’s like a chess game with the other manager. That’s all it takes.”