Moments after a car slammed into the right side of Alex McKenna’s 1991 Ford F-150, his head was spinning.
The blue metal on the truck given to him by his great-grandfather was crumpled. Fluid spilled from the engine. His first thought was to check to make sure he was still in one piece.
“The fact that I could move my body without any restrictions; I was like, ‘I’m good,’ ” McKenna said Wednesday while recounting the October 2017 crash sitting on a bench on the Cal Poly campus.
But that wasn’t completely true. Blood dripped from a large gash on the back of his head. It required six staples to heal. Looking back, he knows it could have been much worse.
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“Two feet to the front, 2 feet to the rear, it’s probably a lot different situation. It could have changed a lot of things,” McKenna said.
A month before the crash, the Cal Poly junior center fielder was continuing to gain notoriety as a top Major League Baseball draft prospect. Coming off a 2017 sophomore season in which he led the Mustangs in nearly every offensive category and earned first-team All-Big West Conference honors, McKenna was listed as the 11th-best 2018 draft-eligible center fielder by D1Baseball.com. In January, he was ranked No. 39 in the website’s Top 100 College Prospects and is ranked No. 10 in a statistical analysis of the top hitters in Division I baseball.
The draft talk has continued entering the 2018 college baseball season, and McKenna is projected to be a second- or third-round pick in June. A top second-round pick in 2017 was valued at more than $1.8 million and a third-round pick was valued, at minimum, more than half a million dollars.
It’s a lot to think about for a 20 year old with more than 50 games left to play in his junior season. McKenna said he tries not think about it at all.
“It’s an honor to be in that conversation, but at the end of the day it’s about getting wins for Cal Poly and playing to my ability,” McKenna said. “If I can do that and stay focused on what my job is each and every day, I think the rest will take care of itself.”
The start to Cal Poly’s 2018 campaign last weekend was identical to last season’s. Cal Poly opened with a narrow win, only to follow with three straight losses. Last season, Cal Poly lost six straight after an opening day win and never recovered, finishing with a 28-28 record (16-8 Big West).
“I think we let things snowball a little bit at the beginning of the season; hopefully we don’t let that happen this year,” said McKenna, who hit a team-leading .360 with five home runs last season. “We obviously didn’t play the way we wanted to to start this season, but it’s still early.”
Head coach Larry Lee said Wednesday it will likely be McKenna who will lead the Mustangs back. Turns out he was right.
On Friday against No. 4-ranked Arkansas, McKenna stepped to the plate with the game tied 3-3 and runners on first and third in the top of the ninth inning. He smacked a single to right-center field to score Blake Wagenseller and give Cal Poly a 4-3 win. McKenna went 2-for-5 in the game and was hitting .316 through the first five games.
McKenna — who had 11 three-hit games and 10 multiple-RBI games last year — hit third in the lineup for the first 13 games of last season, but Lee saw that he was uncomfortable and moved him to leadoff. McKenna excelled in his new spot in the order, and the Mustangs won 19 of 31 games over the final two months of the season. He will continue to be the first man up for the Mustangs in 2018.
“If he is being productive for us, usually the rest of the team follows suit,” Lee said.
Lee has seen McKenna put in the extra time before and after practice to make his dreams into a reality. It looks like it could pay off in a big way.
Jan Moffett of D1Baseball.com compared McKenna — who’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds — to Adam Haseley, a University of Virginia product who was taken No. 8 overall in the 2017 MLB Draft and signed for $5.1 million. McKenna was also listed No. 47 in Baseball America’s Top 100 college prospects for the 2018 MLB Draft by Baseball America.
“He wants to play in the Major Leagues, so everything he does to better himself in baseball is geared towards that,” Lee said. “The offensive component is the one that will get him the looks and allow him to progress in professional baseball.”
It’s not the first time MLB scouts have taken a liking to McKenna. In June 2015, he was drafted in the 38th round by the Minnesota Twins after hitting .402 his senior season at Alemany High School in Mission Hills.
“I wasn’t anything special in high school,” McKenna said. “I was a late bloomer and a three-sport athlete. Up until the end of my junior year, I was set on being a football player.”
But instead of pursing college football as a quarterback or safety, McKenna put his efforts into baseball. When his name was called three years ago, he decided he wasn’t ready for pro ball just yet.
“To pass up an opportunity here to play for coach Lee, to live in San Luis Obispo, to go to one of the top-notch universities in the country, it was just too much to pass up,” McKenna said.
Long Road Ahead
These days, McKenna drives a new truck around the streets of San Luis Obispo. He likes it, but nothing will ever compare to his great-grandfather’s blue behemoth.
“It was saddest thing to get rid of it. It was one of the only things I had left of him,” McKenna said of the totaled truck. “I was more upset about the truck than my accident.”
But the crash taught McKenna a valuable lesson: Life can change in an instant, so value what’s right in front of you.
“I am here to play in the moment and live in the moment,” McKenna said. “If June comes around and my name is called, I will be ecstatic about it. But right now it’s about winning games at Cal Poly and winning a Big West Championship.”