PITTSBURGH -- Judging by the reception he received from fans attending this weekend's PirateFest, Michael McKenry owns this city. What the popular catcher does not own is his position.
Despite an encouraging 2012 season by McKenry, which in manager Clint Hurdle's opinion "opened some people's eyes," general manager Neal Huntington identified his position as the one which most needed upgrading.
McKenry is reacting to the signing of free-agent veteran Russell Martin with his typical resolve.
"Nothing has changed for me," McKenry said during a brief break between cheered appearances at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. "I'm still the same guy. I still want to be playing as much as possible. Whenever my number is called, I will be ready to go. Every single day, I show up at the ballpark and try to get a little bit better -- for myself and for the team. At the end of the day, hopefully I did."
McKenry welcomes Martin with the same sentiment with which he greeted Rod Barajas a year ago: An accomplished veteran who helps the team can only help each of its individual parts, too.
"We got a guy who has a great resume," McKenry said of Martin, who has worked with solid pitching staffs with the Dodgers and Yankees in his seven-year career. "He's a boost to our pitching staff. He can come in and help the team immediately. The guy comes in with experience, and you can't say too much about experience. It absolutely helps to have a veteran leader."
McKenry, 27, saw that first-hand with Barajas, 10 years his senior. The two grew close, with the older player advising and encouraging the younger. After the final game of 2012, with the understanding that it was Barajas' final one with the Bucs, he gave McKenry a warm hug and words of motivation.
"I don't know if I want to share everything he said," McKenry said, "but he did give me a huge hug and told me, 'It was awesome to see you grow this year.' And [he] just told me to keep going. He was such a great guy, and I enjoyed my time with him and learned some things from him. I hope he can say the same about me."
Playing second-fiddle to Martin could be a little different. McKenry is only two years younger than Martin and, considering he did it in 182 fewer at-bats, his 12 homers and 39 RBIs ranked with Martin's 21 and 53. Furthermore, while the Bucs have talked up Martin's ability to reach base, McKenry had an on-base percentage of .320 last season, while Martin slumped to .311.
McKenry does not approach it like that. He cannot afford to.
"It's not anything I can control," McKenry said. "I just continue to show up every day and bust my tail to be the best I can be, focus on what can make me better as an individual. If Martin and I both do that, only good things can happen.
"Whatever Hurdle does any given day, that's what we'll run with."
Having the manager in your corner certainly does not hurt. Hurdle and Huntington both consider the modern catching load too heavy for one primary receiver. Martin will be more of a workhorse, but McKenry will remain a major factor -- giving the Pirates many opportunities for "The Fort" to be with them.