Mackenzie Whitford is all baseball.
He looks like he could get out on the field and play a solid centre field, and even sports a legit baseball beard that would win the approval of Mike Napoli.
But he’s a dugout strategist – studying the game and pulling strings with the intensity of a Tony La Russa.
He’s a former catcher – the position that has always produced the most managers in Major League Baseball.
And he has been chosen coach of the year for B.C. Minor Baseball at the under-18 level.
In 2015, his midget AAA team went 38-4 and won the provincials, then last year finished third in the league, and lost by a run in the B.C. championship.
“So it’s a nod to the consistency in the program,” said Nor Ljunggren, his general manager with the Ridge Meadows Royals and good friend.
“He’s a very intense, details-oriented guy. Very knowledgeable, and demands a lot from his players. A no-nonsense guy,” said Ljunggren.
“He’s got a passion for baseball in Ridge Meadows,” he added, noting that Whitford played all of his minor baseball here, and has passed up coaching opportunities in the Premier Baseball League in order to run an elite program in his hometown.
“He’s been a Ridge guy his whole life.”
Nobody in Ridge Meadows baseball has won the honour since Ljunggren did in 2009.
Whitford started coaching when he was 19, with longtime local coach Greg Bodnarchuk and Ljunggren. They won a provincial title that year.
He and Ljunngren had become friends when Whitford was in Grade 10 and Ljunngren was in his final year of high school.
“He used to pick me up for baseball in his beater Mustang,” Whitford remembers.
They have coached together for eight seasons, the last two with Ljunngren as GM.
He was the best man at Ljunngren’s wedding, and when he gets married this October – after the baseball season – Ljunngren will also stand up for him.
Mackenzie’s approach as a coach is to emphasize playing great defence.
Offence, he says, is “a mindset,” where you put the ball in play and always look to use speed to steal bases, go from first to third, score from second and try to steal runs.
He likes quote from Ty Cobb that essentially says the team that has to catch the ball, throw the ball and make a tag are going to make a mistake before a guy who has to run 90 feet.
And he takes accountability for what happens on the field.
“Every time you win, you get all the credit,” he tells his team. “When we lose, it’s on the coaching staff.”
Whitford said his own baseball career was marred by some inconsistent coaching, and he wants to be there for the players. All the work that they put in should culminates in some great years at the end of their minor baseball careers.
His approach has won him three provincial titles at the age of 30.
And his midgets could contend for another one this coming season. He’s got eight pitchers who could all start. They lost just one pitcher from last year’s provincial finalist.
His brother Patrick has been coaching the bantams, so he knows they’re coming up to the midget program this year as good ballplayers. They’re already working out evenings indoors.
“This year is going to be a really good one for us,” he predicts.
Whitford will accept his award at a B.C. Minor Baseball luncheon next month.
The association plans to honour Whitford at their annual Opening Day festivities in April.