Kyle MacDonald grew up in a baseball family. His mom played for Team Canada’s women’s softball team, and his father played in a slow pitch league. During high school, he quit hockey to prioritize baseball as his number one sport.
Amanda: So, first off that first moment when you found out you were drafted, what was that like to hear?
Kyle: It was a surreal moment, I guess. It didn’t set in right away. I saw my name on the draft board, and my mom and dad were with me. So it was is a surreal feeling. I knew it was a huge honor to be drafted by the Yankees. To share that moment with my family was pretty cool.
A: You’re originally from Ontario, so how did you get into the sport of baseball?
K: Yeah. My dad always played just slow pace, like beer league slow pitch and stuff, nothing serious. My mom played for Team Canada softball before I was born so baseball was always kind of, at least the sport of baseball and softball was kind of always in the family and then just when I was born, I grew up around my parents playing slow pitch together. As I got older I just kind of, kept playing it and started with tee ball and a (the) sport just took over. And I grew up playing hockey and baseball and right up to about a junior in high school and quit hockey and baseball became my number one sport.
A: And so you said that both your parents played baseball and softball were they first baseman or did you choose to become a first baseman? How did you choose your position you were going to play?
K: I was a catcher when I got to college, but I had knee surgery my freshman year and that kind of moved me to play a little bit of third, a little bit of first. First base just stuck. My mom was a catcher as well, so I guess that’s where that all came from. And then, after the knee surgery, the whole first base thing just took over, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
A: And was there a specific, once you moved to first base, was there a particular player that you look to?
K: Not a whole lot. The main goal was just kind of, get the job done at first. They steer me over there, sort of right before the season and they’re like, alright, well kind of keep as many balls in the infield as possible. The whole defense thing was second, I was just pretty much, ready to hit and do whatever I could defensively second and I just used the summers, going to play summer ball, time to work on my defense. So that’s improved over the last three, four years or however long it been.
A: Yeah and catcher to first base is a massive transition. You were going from calling the game to now taking a step back from that. In 2018 you hit .346 and then in 2019 you were, still hitting over .300. Was there a change at the plate or change in your approach at the plate that you made in the offseason?
K: Not really I came in the season and honestly I knew I would be pitched to a little differently after the year I’d had, coming into preseason. I knew I was going to have to maybe potentially change my approach or look at what pitchers are going to do to me. I’ve always started slow and even in 2018 when I hit .346 I was, I started, hitting under .250, .230 and then the year went on and got hot. The same kind of thing was happening again in 2019. I started slow, and the averages started to climb, and then I got hurt. I had an oblique injury and missed about three or so weeks. That hurt me a lot because when I left, I was getting hot. I felt like my average was starting to climb, the power was coming back, and then I had to miss a bunch of time and regather everything together. I guess that’s when you see a dip in the numbers there in the middle for 2019. I think that was just the big thing was the injury just came at a really poor time. I mean I was able to go back and finish up the last, three, four weeks of the season. I have a decent finish, but it just wasn’t the same as what I was looking for.
A: When you are injured or when you’re going through a slump, what’s something that you think of, get you through it. How do you handle that slump?
K: Yeah, I just tried to say as active as I could. I mean there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, but I was still traveling with the team, I was doing some charts in the dugout. So I was, trying to stay as involved with everyone as possible and just trying to look forward to coming back and try not to get too disappointed about things and try not to look too far ahead in the future and it’s taking things day by day. Progress with the injury as it comes in, and they’re just trying to get back on the field as soon as possible.
A: Was there a coach or a person who was influential in your college career?
K: I’ve had a few. I mean, all the coaches I’ve had have been huge for me. I started at a Ju Co (junior college, Crowder College) and the coaching staff, they’re unbelievable. I mean they took me as a walk-on just off seeing a video of me. Kyle Williams was the coach there, and he just saw a video of them and me recruited me off a video. Coach Travis Lallemand was the head coach there, and he had a huge impact not just on my baseball career, but also just my personal life and then off the field life. His wife was our trainer Ms. Jennifer Lallemand. So that whole family means a lot to me, and I still go back and hang out with them and talk to them daily. Tyler Sawyer was a pitching coach there and, you know, I didn’t have as much contact with him being the pitching guy, but he still has a significant impact. And then transferring to my four-year school, coach Tommy Raffo, he was a first baseman, so honestly, he helped me grow my defensive game for sure. Then coach Massoni and coach Guarno, both are hitting guys help me take my offensive game to the next level, not just from actually hitting, but more of an approach standpoint, what I’m looking for at the plate. Just kind of all the coaches came together, and my last few years of college, they only grow.
A: And so going back a little bit to you said you knew that they were, pitchers were going to come at you with a different approach after your 2018 season, working with the coaching staff. What was something that you saw a little bit more in 2019, were there different pitches, were they pitching outside a little bit more to you?
K: The biggest thing I noticed was they weren’t willing to miss over the plate. So if they were going to miss, they miss for balls. They expanded zones a lot more. A lot more off-speed in hitters counts and I’d get 3-0 breaking balls, 3-1 breaking balls. Sometimes get pitched bad a little bit, but I think the biggest thing for me early was not willing to miss over the plate. And I was getting a little antsy, either trying to expand my zone and try and hit pitches off the plate. I had to kind of reel that in and you know, realize that we had a deeper line up in 2019 and I could take my walks. Let the guys behind me, you know, do their thing.
A: And how do you stay patient in those situations when you’re thrown a breaking ball on a 3-1 count?
K: It’s tough. At the same time once you understand what they’re trying to do to you and once I realized this was probably whatI’m going to get, or you look at the percentages of what they’re throwing the breaking ball for you. Something I started sitting on and started waiting for the breaking ball, and I was able to start driving that pitch just as well as I was able to drive the fastball.
A: At Arkansas State, your tied for second place in most home runs. So can you talk a little bit about that?
K: Yeah, It started. I think at my junior college. I have the home run record there and coach Kyle Williams who is big on elevating the baseball. His big thing was when you’re struggling, just hit the ball in the air. So, that was something that was instilled in me from I guess a young age at the college level was hit the ball in the air. Once I was able to develop myself as a hitter and make consistent contact, I already had the whole hitting the ball in the air thing kind of down. My sophomore year, my junior year, I hit .345, .346 with 15 home runs both years. I think it both just kind of clicked and the ball just started jumping off the bat for me.
A: Who were your favorite players/teams growing up?
K: Favorite team was the Toronto Blue Jays. I grew up about 20 minutes from the Rogers Centre, Skydome as a kid. So obviously, you know, as a hometown team, I had a couple of favorite players, but first was Carlos Delgado. That’s the first one that I remember going back to. I was also a David Ortiz fan, and a Russell Martin fan in my catching days. So the kind of three guys I looked up to.