McKay is Dipoto's first major hiring for Mariners
SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto went outside the box with his first major hire as Mariners general manager, signing up Rockies sports psychologist Andy McKay as the team's new director of player development, even though the two have no prior connections.
The Mariners finalized McKay's hiring on Wednesday, and the 44-year-old will now take over as the club's farm director, overseeing the six Minor League teams as well as the Dominican Republic Academy. He replaces Chris Gwynn, who resigned on Oct. 8 after four years in that position.
McKay doesn't have any history with Dipoto, other than when Dipoto made some inquiries into his potential interest in coming to work for the Angels three years ago. The two met in person for the first time when Dipoto interviewed him last week, and McKay says he wasn't actively seeking a front-office position, but the connection clicked.
"I was really excited when I sat with Jerry and his staff. Excited about what he wants to do," McKay said from his home in Sacramento, Calif. "I went into that interview with the idea that I'm not going to hold anything back. I'll explain what I believe and why. If they take it, great. If not, it wasn't meant to be. It seemed like a very good connection, and we were on the same page."
McKay's official title with the Rockies was "peak performance director," and he worked with players from the Major League level down through the entire Minor League system on the mental aspects of the game, after spending 13 years as the head coach at Sacramento City College.
"You enter pro ball and, in my estimation, about 10 percent of those players can separate themselves on physical ability," he said. "For the remaining 90 percent, the game becomes 100 percent mental, finding the ability to focus on the right things at the right time and the ability to get through a long season without losing focus or losing confidence, which is so fragile in baseball."
McKay said his first priority will be overseeing the Minor League system, but he'll be a hands-on instructor when possible as well. With the Rockies, he suited up as a coach and worked with Major League players at times, and he'll continue that role when time allows.
"I'd like to look at myself as another coach with a lot of other responsibilities," he said. "If you really want to learn about players, the more you get in there with them, the better. You're trying to develop relationships and connect with people. It's a lot easier to do that when you're not separating yourself from the group -- both how you position yourself, and also the willingness to get in and do the heavy lifting."
What he found in his discussions with Dipoto is a shared interest in the big picture, which is creating the best environment for players to improve and succeed at all levels of the organization.
His first impression of Dipoto was "a very engaging personality and presence. But most important was the way he looks at the game."
And that's where McKay's ideas will be put into play, as he says baseball has changed over the past 20 years, with youngsters not all moving from American Legion summer programs up the ladder. Athletes now come from different backgrounds and cultures. He says Major League franchises need to adapt to how they're growing their own talent.
"Mental training, physical training, everything is constantly evolving," he said. "Whether it's analytics or how we're lifting weights, processing information, how to motivate and connect with athletes, the landscape of baseball is always changing."
And McKay plans to help the Mariners change with it, starting immediately with a job that will carry him from Seattle to Peoria and all the team's Minor League clubs.
"I have to build a culture," McKay said, "and I feel confident I can do that."