WALLINGFORD — It’s a dream come true as well as the start of a new journey for Wallingford baseball player Jake MacKenzie, who has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Boston Red Sox.
MacKenzie, an infielder who started his baseball career playing in Yalesville Little League and then attended Choate Rosemary Hall for high school, has been in New York City the past three years playing Division I college ball with the Fordham Rams. Now MacKenzie will be leaving the home of the Bronx Bombers to play for their archrivals.
MacKenzie said the Red Sox were the first to contact him and show interest, and it meant a lot to him to play for a franchise where he was valued.
“I was fielding calls from five different teams,” MacKenzie said. “The Red Sox were the first to call and offered me on the spot.”
MacKenzie reached out to those other teams after this year’s five-round MLB Draft, but nobody showed as much interest in him as Boston did, which made his decision a fairly easy one.
“I called the other teams who were interested in me and those guys said they wanted to see who else said yes first. That kind of showed me I wasn’t as high on their board or whatever, so I really just wanted to be somewhere where I was valued, where they really wanted me. I called (the Red Sox) back at about 9:30 and told them if they gave me a concrete offer I’d accept it on the spot.”
MacKenzie gave a lot of the credit for his success to his parents, John and Michelle, his coaches and the Yalesville Little League, which was his first experience playing baseball.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the Yalesville Little League for fostering me from a young age,” he said. “A lot of coaches I’ve had throughout the years who have had a tremendous impact on my life and my career.”
MacKenzie also praised his dad, who introduced him to the game at a young age and played a prominent role in his training, coaching and development.
“Just having a parent like that who’s always there, trying to help you out and available for whatever you need,” Jake said. “Whether it’s just to pick me up or throw some BP. We even built a batting cage in the backyard. How many kids can say that?”
MacKenzie said one of the most exciting aspects of going pro is the access to cutting-edge equipment and facilities. He is eager to take full advantage of these new opportunities to improve his game.
“These professional teams have the best facilities, coaches and equipment available to really try and make a baseball player as good as he can possibly get,” he said.
Despite leaving Fordham a year early to pursue his dream of being a professional baseball player, MacKenzie said he still plans to get his college degree.
“They gave me money for school, so I definitely have to finish my degree. When that will happen I’m not sure, but I’m taking a few online classes this summer. Finishing my education is definitely something that my parents are hounding me to do,” he said.
MacKenzie added that he feels he can contribute to any team by being versatile, playing many roles and playing with a unique style. He was primarily a shortstop at Fordham and a major threat on the base paths. His 43 stolen bases as a sophomore in 2019 led the Atlantic 10 and were fourth best nationally.
The 62 games he played and started at shortstop that year are Fordham single-season records. MacKenzie atted .305 with 49 runs scored, 15 doubles, three home runs and 28 RBI.
“I play many positions and I think I do a lot on offense that people don’t really do anymore, things like stealing bases and creating runs,” he said. “I think my versatility is something that a team would like and I can really help any team that I’m on because I can play six positions and also make various contributions on offense.”
MacKenzie’s coaches from his youth days in Wallingford are confident their former player will make headway in the Red Sox organization. MacKenzie is due to start with the Lowell Spinners in the Class A New York-Penn League.
“He'll be able to navigate the minor league journey because he's so mentally tough,” said Scott Wosleger, MacKenzie’s high school coach at Choate. “He studies the game, is always prepared and is receptive to coaching.
“When he was getting ready to leave Choate I thought he was more than ready for the college game; he was built for it,” Wosleger added. “Seeing how he progressed at Fordham, I feel the same way now. He's built mentally for the pro game and his skills match up.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Tony Pipenbacher, who coached MacKenzie during his Little League career, starting in instructional league when MacKenzie was just 8-years old.
“I think Jake has the determination and work ethic to go along with his God-given abilities to endure through that process and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see him make it to the big leagues at some point in his career,” Pipenbacher said.
“I remember being intrigued at how competitive and talented he was at such a young age, both in fielding and, of course, hitting a baseball,” Pipenbacher added. “I could see the enthusiasm he had for the game at that young age as well.”
Pipenbacher said the same attributes that allowed MacKenzie to thrive on the diamond also helped him off the field. He described MacKenzie as a hard worker and a leader.
“As for off the field, Jake put the same intensity and hard work ethic into his academics as well. I obviously spent most of my time with him on the field, so one of the traits I noticed was how he would try to pick up teammates that may have had a bad at-bat or misplayed a ball in the field. He was always there for his teammates in that aspect.”
Pipenbacher said MacKenzie’s competitiveness and work ethic will continue to help him develop as a player and a person.
“One of Jake’s best qualities is his competitiveness, not only in athletics but within himself to be the best person he can be,” Pipenbacher said. “I believe his talent, work ethic and determination will help him succeed professionally and is what has gotten him to where he is today.”
Wosleger saw similar qualities in MacKenzie when he was at Choate.
“In high school, he was aggressive, intense and always competed his butt off. He was literally afraid of nothing,” the Choate coach said. “As far as ability, he had a great blend of speed and power. He wanted to learn every minute. He was constantly asking questions and was always looking to get better.”
Pipenbacher hopes MacKenzie’s success will also be a source of motivation and inspiration for the next wave of young athletes growing up in Wallingford.
“His signing with a Major League team shows the youth of Wallingford that their dreams and aspirations can come true if they are willing to put the time, effort and hard work in, whether it’s playing a professional sport or any career that they may dream to be.
“Jake MacKenzie is by far the best athlete that I have coached or watched play the game of baseball at the youth level,” Pipenbacher added. “And as talented of a baseball player that he is, he’s also just as special of a person. I wish him nothing but success in the future.”
Wosleger said “the sky is the limit” for MacKenzie’s future.
“It sounds cliche, but it just proves when you work hard on the field and in the classroom, then combine that with high character, the sky is the limit. Cool thing is, he's not done yet.”
What’s next for MacKenzie now that he has signed with a Major League organization? With his work ethic, continuing to find ways to improve.
“I’m just really excited about the next step, about trying to perfect my craft in the game I’ve been playing my whole life,” MacKenzie said.
He paused, and then added, “I’m really excited to see how good I can get at this game, how I can improve myself and how I stack up against the best players in the world. The opportunities are immense, and I’m really excited to just see what I can do with my lifelong dream in an organization that I love.”