BRADENTON -- At this time last year, Michael McKenry was in the Colorado Rockies' organization and the owner of eight major-league at-bats.
On Thursday afternoon, he stood in front of his locker at McKechnie Field, surrounded by boxes packed with equipment that soon will be headed to Pittsburgh.
For the first time in his life, McKenry is going with them.
"It's nuts, how I ended up here," the Pirates catcher said following the team's 11-6 loss to Minnesota. "It's a blessing at the same time."
Drafted by the Rockies in 2006, McKenry was dealt to Boston last March and sent to the Red Sox Triple-A team in Pawtucket. Less than three months later, however, he was traded to the Pirates, whose
catching corps had been decimated by injuries.
Before Thursday's game, the Pirates reassigned catchers Eric Fryer and Jake Fox to their minor-league camp, meaning the 27-year-old McKenry is about to make an Opening Day roster for the first time.
"It's every little kid's dream," McKenry said. "But mostly, it's taking everything day by day and not jumping to any conclusions, not trying to do too much. Take everything one step at a time. When Opening Day comes, Opening Day comes. Then you go to day two, day three ... ."
McKenry appeared in 58 games last summer for the Pirates and had his share of interesting experiences. His first major-league home run was a go-ahead three-run blast off Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, and his second came during the Pirates' 19-inning game with Atlanta Braves, a game in which McKenry caught every inning.
The addition of veteran Rod Barajas means McKenry will be a backup this year. But he'll be a backup who has earned the trust of his pitching staff, according to starter Jeff Karstens.
"Even my fiancée was like, 'I like watching Michael play, because it seems like he really cares.' And he does. He has a really deep passion for this game," Karstens said. "We talk and talk and talk, and we're always trying to work to get better, and I think that's something that is going to be beneficial for this pitching staff, because he really cares about each and every guy that goes out there. And that's fun to watch."
That's how McKenry was taught to play the game during his three years at Middle Tennessee State.
"My coach told me as soon as I got recruited, he goes 'Do you want to be a catcher?' And I said, 'Yes, sir,'" McKenry said. "And he said, 'Will you settle for an 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and a shutout with your pitcher?' And I said, 'Yes sir.' That's kind of the mentality you've got to have. ... If (a pitcher) throws a shutout, we've got a great lineup that can produce some runs, at least one run.
"Catching's No.1, and everything else is No. 2. You want to be there for your pitcher, whatever he needs."
And the Tennessee native said he has found a home in Pittsburgh, going as far as to refer to himself as a "Pittsburgher at heart."
"Hard-working, don't taking anything for granted," McKenry said, aligning himself with the residents of the Steel City. "I just feel really fortunate and blessed that I'm here, and I think we've got a good team and a good coaching staff to back us, and it's going to be a fun year.
"Opening Day, spring day, I'm looking forward to it. ... It's a blast. We lost 11-6 (Thursday), but there's good things you can find in every game. You've just got to enjoy it."