April 30, 2004
By Elizabeth Schaeffer
Aaron MacKenzie didn't take his first experience with baseball as an omen of his future in the sport.
MacKenzie clearly remembers his first experience in tee ball as running the wrong way around the diamond after a strong connection with the laced rawhide ball.
Thankfully, MacKenzie put performances like that to rest soon enough, turning around to run in the prescribed direction. And he quickly surpassed the tee ball stage of his youth and began rising up in the world of Australian club baseball.
Starting at the young age of 12, he played on state teams and when he was 16, MacKenzie represented Australia as a member of their Junior National team.
As member of Australia's Junior National team, he won a bronze medal at the World Championships in Taipei, Taiwan. The kids from down under won the bronze with a home run hit during extra innings against the Korean Junior National squad. The game was played live in front of 22,000 people and televised nationally in Taiwan.
'This was a very memorable moment in my life,' MacKenzie said.
Sports run virtually unattached to the educational system in Australia, which allows athletes to enter professional sports at a relatively young age compared to high school athletes in America. By his mid-teens, MacKenzie's pitching career was moving fast and he was considering his future options.
'I really wanted to sign a professional contract early on in my career,' MacKenzie said. 'Once you are 16 and a half, you are eligible to sign as a free agent. A lot of kids are good at that age, (but) they end up getting washed out in three or four years. I spoke to a few scouts but I kind of passed over those opportunities.'
Instead, he followed a friend to play baseball at Treasure Valley Community College where he struck out 68 batters in 72.2 innings in his first year. The following year he struck out 76 batters in 73.2 innings.
His performances at TVCC lead to his signing with the Cougs and he hasn't found anything he doesn't like about the time he has spent pitching and studying at WSU.
'Me and the fellas are a really close knit team,' MacKenzie said in his best Aussie accent. 'I think it helps to come to practice every day with a group of guys who really get along. Everyone really likes each other, and the success we are having this year makes it really fun.'
'Aaron MacKenzie is a neat story,' WSU Head Baseball Coach Tim Mooney said. 'He is quite a self-made success story. He came to the United States from Australia, where there is not a much organized baseball, and made himself into a Division I pitcher.'
MacKenzie has discovered that in Pac-10 baseball there is an array of skilled hitters. When aluminum bats are thrown into the mix, the competition gets stiff.
'In this league, I think you really have to pitch, change speeds and locate (the ball). As my collegiate career has gone on, I have gotten a lot better at locating my pitches,' MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie has also developed a real confidence in his catcher, Brandon Reddinger, who he fells make him look good on the mound and in the scorebook.
'He picks up things that I don't, and I pick up things that he doesn't,' MacKenzie said of Reddinger. 'I think he is one of the best defensive catchers in the league. I don't have too much fear of throwing the ball in the dirt or putting the ball in areas that I don't think he can catch.'
MacKenzie is confident he hasn't cheated himself out of any opportunities and feels good about the effort that he has given during his play for the Cougars. It is also advice he gives to incoming players.
'Just about every day that I've been out there (practicing and playing) I've given all that I can,' MacKenzie said. 'Give your best while you are here and don't expect the opportunities will always be there tomorrow.'
Mooney agrees, adding, 'I think the biggest reason for Aaron's success is how hard he competes. He has made him himself into what he is today. He always prepares well and puts forth his best effort.'
Australia's loss was definitely a gain for baseball on the Palouse.