Welcome to another edition of the Orioles Beat newsletter. The O’s continued their six-game National League road swing in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, when they fell, 4-3, in 10 innings. Still, it’s been a good trip thus far for Baltimore, which previously took two of three in San Francisco. And, for one player, the success extended beyond the baseball field ...
MILWAUKEE -- Ryan McKenna texted his dad, Marty, last Thursday with exciting news. Surprisingly, it didn’t have to do with the Orioles’ strong start to the 2023 campaign. Or anything pertaining to baseball at all, for that matter.
On a rare day away from a ballpark during the grind of a 162-game season, McKenna set a personal record at a different sports venue -- the golf course. And not just any golf course, but TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
For the first time in his sporadic, not-quite-even-amateur level golf career, McKenna finished an 18-hole round at par, shooting a 72.
“I texted my dad, I was like, ‘Hey, I shot even par.’ He was like, ‘No way!’” McKenna recalled Tuesday.
It wasn’t a big deal only because the 26-year-old McKenna played the best round of his life, but also because the Baltimore outfielder did so at a recognizable course. TPC Harding Park is part of the PGA Tour's Tournament Players Club and has hosted marquee events such as the Presidents Cup (2009) and the PGA Championship (‘20).
In the latter, Tiger Woods shot a 72 in both the second and third rounds. That should put into perspective just how well McKenna played last Thursday, the day before the Orioles opened a three-game series vs. the Giants at Oracle Park.
Don’t worry, there were witnesses. McKenna was joined by infielder Gunnar Henderson, utility man Terrin Vavra and assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes.
“Gunnar and Terrin hadn’t seen me play [before], really,” McKenna said. “So they just thought that was like normal for me.”
“He played unbelievable,” Henderson said.
Unbelievable wasn’t exactly normal, though. McKenna said he typically shoots in the 80s, with an average score of about 82. On Monday’s off-day in Milwaukee, he played a round at Ironwood Golf Course and finished with an 87.
The scores don’t always dictate McKenna’s enjoyment level. He also likes to bond with his Orioles teammates away from work and to take in incredible views at various golf courses around the country. That’s why Monday’s visit to Ironwood was still a fun one.
“It was beautiful,” McKenna said. “The scene was like out of a storybook almost -- the geese, the pond, the greenery, the trees. It was all super, super nice.”
McKenna actually has a long history with golf. He can recall a Christmas during his childhood when he and his older brother, Sean, each received a set of Golden Bear junior clubs. He remembers playing from the time he was about 8 or 9.
While attending St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover, N.H., McKenna’s athletic life was consumed by baseball. He went straight from there to the O’s organization after Baltimore selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft. But there was a bit of jealousy toward his friends on the golf team, noting it seemed “so fun” from afar.
McKenna didn’t always take his hobby so seriously. He said he didn’t practice his swing or visit driving ranges until 2021, his rookie year in MLB. Now, as he travels to various big league cities, he finds new courses to play with his teammates.
Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier are both “pretty good” golfers, according to McKenna. Another regular off-day participant is Ryan O’Hearn.
But the best golfer on the Orioles’ roster may be a player who hasn’t joined McKenna for a round yet -- Aaron Hicks, who signed with the team on May 30. The 33-year-old outfielder once got a hole-in-one on a par 4. He’s also married to LPGA golfer Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece. So, McKenna is looking forward to an opportunity to play with Hicks.
Golf and baseball may be vastly different sports, but McKenna sees similarities through his affinity for swing mechanics, whether he’s holding a club or a bat.
“The ball’s stationary in golf, but it’s like a puzzle when you try to get certain parts of your swing synchronized in the right way,” McKenna said. “It’s very similar to the way that I break down the hitting swing vs. a golf swing. Obviously, different motions -- one’s way more toward the ground than the other.
“But yeah, I really enjoy that piece of dissecting, ‘OK, maybe if my elbow was here, it might be a little bit easier to hit the ball where I want it to.’”
Nearly every ball landed where McKenna wanted it to last Thursday in San Francisco. And he really enjoyed that, too.
Which of the following players was not a member of the Orioles’ 2015 Draft class?
A. Keegan Akin
B. Ryan Mountcastle
C. Cedric Mullins
D. Nick Vespi
KJERSTAD READY FOR TRIPLE-A
Even as Heston Kjerstad tore up Double-A -- despite having never played at that high of a level heading into the 2023 season -- the 24-year-old wasn’t thinking too far ahead.
“Honestly, I’m just focused on where I’m at,” Kjerstad, the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 50 overall prospect, said last Thursday.
That’s now with Triple-A Norfolk, as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft moved up on Monday. Kjerstad’s promotion came after he slashed .310/.384/.576 with 10 doubles, three triples, 11 homers and 23 RBIs in 46 games with Bowie.
Kjerstad was supposed to make his debut for the Tides on Tuesday night, but their game at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was postponed due to poor air quality and out of an abundance of caution for potential health concerns. The two teams are scheduled to play at 6:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and Kjerstad will likely be in Norfolk’s lineup for the first time.
Jackson Holliday, Baltimore’s No. 1 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect, was named the South Atlantic League Player of the Month for May. Over 24 games for High-A Aberdeen, the 19-year-old led the league in average (.384), hits (33), on-base percentage (.509) and OPS (1.137).
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 Draft, Holliday also ranked second in runs (26) and triples (three), third in slugging percentage (.628) and fifth in RBIs (19) and walks (21) in the South Atlantic League in May.
D. Keegan Akin
Akin was selected in the second round of the 2016 Draft.
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