A Firm Foundation

To truly understand a person, one must start at their roots.

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By Robby Veronesi & Lizzy Lombardo / Bowie Baysox | August 25, 2018 9:35 AM

The Northern New England coast at the border of New Hampshire and Maine is a spot that is frequently sought out by vacationers and weekend retreaters across the northeastern United States.

Known for scenery, lakes, beaches, and lots of community-driven small towns where having cookouts under a beautiful summer sky is far from uncommon, the town of Berwick, Maine, became the home to the McKenna family in 1999.


Originally from Grants Pass, Oregon, the McKenna clan moved across the country a couple years after Ryan was born.


"My dad had a business opportunity," said McKenna. "He was involved in a coffee business called Dutch Bros. Coffee. He was one of the original guys that started the business, so he pretty much took that same idea and said 'Hey, I'm going to do my own thing on the other side of the country.' It's been great for him and he's done a great job."


While the McKenna patriarch was helping Aroma Joe's Coffee get off the ground, Ryan and his brother, Sean, were keeping their mom equally busy.


"She was a full-time mom and very involved with the church," said McKenna. "She has a blog now, reaching out to help other women--and sometimes men, too--follow a good faith foundation and guide people that way. She was awesome (and) took care of me and my brothers as best as she could. She's an amazing woman."


Of course, there was also baseball. For a young New England boy, that usually revolves around a certain organization about an hour and a half south on I-95 in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston.


"My dad had strong passion for (baseball)," said McKenna. "I think that comes from my grandfather, his dad. He coached Little League, but he never got the opportunity to play in college just because the resources weren't there for his family. He was a great player from what he says and the stories of other people I talked to.


"We grew up Red Sox fans and that's always a struggle because they hadn't won for 86 years. 2004 was a great year for our family. Ever since I was little, we just started playing and my ability showed. I kept pursuing that. It was a passion, so (my dad) sought development opportunities for me and was hopeful for me to play in college or pro ball in the big leagues one day. He was fully on board with baseball for my brother and I, so that's how it started originally."


McKenna shined at St. Thomas Aquinas High School across the border in New Hampshire, but he still needed a little bit of external exposure in order to get noticed on a national level.


"Summer ball was huge for me in my exposure," said McKenna. "Perfect Game was in the beginning (stages), when they were just started to get big at the time. Through the (high school) years, I did those camps and showcases (and) I just tried to get in front of as many people as I could. I think my athleticism and doing well in those tournaments got some (exposure) from some of those scouts. I think the summer programs were the biggest things for my experience.


All of a sudden, an 18-year-old McKenna was sitting with his family watching the fourth round of the 2015 draft unfold.


"It's a crazy experience," said McKenna. "Leading up to draft day itself, I was projected from the 2nd to 5th or 6th rounds. So, we stayed up all night for the first round and I didn't get picked. On the second day, my whole family was there and the moment leading up to it was like 'alright, I want this to happen.'


"(My) family was all there and it's like everything that's been built up for the past couple months has just finally set in. There's a lot on the line and (a lot of) anticipation leading up to it. Once it happened, it's a time of joy I got to spend with my family and friends. It's a fun day for sure."


When the metaphoric dust settled, McKenna was a professional baseball player with the Baltimore Orioles at the young age of 18. For the first time in his life, the rest of the world opened up and was at his footsteps.


"(At age 18), you're definitely a kid when you get drafted, so your only experience is being in your parents' home," said McKenna. "I thought I was pretty mature and I had a pretty good parenting structure for being that young, but you're never fully prepared to go out on your own and be with a bunch of guys in the same situation.


"You're definitely around some older guys (age 23, 24) who have been drafted as college juniors and seniors, so I think watching and learning from other guys and developing as a player and person have taken me a long way, on and off the field. It's learning how to go about your business. Developing as a person is definitely a process you need to go through. I wouldn't have wanted to do it anywhere else. It's definitely a fun opportunity."


Part of the maturation and personal development has roots in Maine. The same faith foundation that his mom held firmly to when raising the McKenna boys soon took a hold of Ryan.


"It's everything for me," said McKenna. "As a human, you go through ups and downs and you try to stay connected as well as you can with the God that allowed me to be here. Everything he's done has been a plan. Being human, I've tried to fight Him a little bit. Falling and not being perfect is just something you have to go through, but I keep in mind that He has a plan for me.


"It eases my mind when you're going through rough times and looking to Him for help is huge for my development as a person. I think it's the only reason that I've had success in this game. I didn't do anything to deserve the ability I have, so everything through Him is what I do. That's the strife at least. You fall as a human, but trying to give the glory to Him in wherever you can is important."


In order to begin understanding who McKenna is on the field, it's necessary to understand who the outfielder is off the field. Rewind about 14 years ago.


"When you're younger, you can't fully understand the whole thing," said McKenna. "When I was seven, I was baptized. I genuinely wanted to accept Him and I think that's the moment I was saved, and I've never have doubted that belief since. I think at 18 or 19 years old is really when I got closer (to God).


"You really transition from what your parents told you to do to taking it on as a man and develop that personal relationship with Him. I think that is the two points of my life I have come to know Him and taken his blessings and acknowledging him to his fullest."


One way he's acknowledged the blessings he's experienced is reflecting some praise and gratitude back to the two people who have been there since day one.


"(My dad)'s the most caring and loving person I've met-both him and my mother," said McKenna. "That's what hits home for me the most. How they treat people and how they use their gifts to bless other people, not in a righteous or arrogant way, but out of humility (in an effort) to brighten everyone's day. It's awesome to see and I appreciate that about them a lot."


So, how can faith translate to the baseball field, you ask?  


"In this game, you wish you'd be able to hit 1.000 and get on base every time," said McKenna. "You fail so much that you just have to keep going and be persistent. Through God, it brings a reason for it. My whole reason why I keep holding onto the idea of being in a big situation where I can give the glory to Him-whether that be here or in the Big Leagues or wherever-(is so) I can strive and try to use the gifts that He's given me.


"Everyone has a gift that's given to them through God. I firmly believe that. Everyone's good at something and should use their gift as a positive light in this world. It goes to the things you can't control, so I think that's something I keep in mind. I try to stay positive and I think believing in a big Power that loves eternally goes a long way in keeping me positive."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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