FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Brian McRae likes keeping busy. He especially likes giving something back to his community, which is one of the reasons he's now the director of the Kansas City Sluggers youth baseball program.
It doesn't have to be baseball to get McRae involved in a project, although baseball is a natural for the former big leaguer. He's served on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters, worked with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and helped raise money for cancer research. He's also the part-owner of a radio station in Kansas City, part-owner of two restaurants and has done extensive work in broadcasting.
McRae, 41, retired from baseball in 1999 after a 10-year career with the Royals, Cubs, Mets, Rockies and Blue Jays. He reportedly made $3.9 million with the Cubs in 1997 and $3.5 million with the Mets in 1999, and has kept busy since hanging up his spikes.
"I like to keep busy and I like working," he said. "I think that your mind still needs to do something, and you still need to make yourself feel like you're contributing to society, and you're doing something other than just sitting around. I can always sit around."
McRae is in Fayetteville with the Kansas City Sluggers this week for the Premier Baseball Sophomore Championship. He worked with the Sluggers as a part-time coach last year, then became the director this year. He doesn't have a son in the program, so that was not his motivation for getting involved.
"I have a daughter," he said, smiling. "She'll be 3 years old."
McRae said he enjoys working with the players, and especially enjoys helping them improve and possibly reach the next level. The Sluggers have three teams in their program this year and might add a fourth team next year.
"It's a challenge, but it's fun to see some kids develop," he said. "A lot of high school programs in the area where we draw our kids from, they tell kids what to do, but they don't teach them how to do it. So I really found that the practice habits had to change a lot. That was the biggest challenge, just to change their mindset of how they go about practice."
McRae does not sit in an ivory tower and preach to the kids. He's on the field, performing all sorts of duties. "I get there early, I manicure the fields, I make sure things are taken care of, so when they come out we're ready to get to practice," he said.
He said it took a couple of weeks for the players to understand that he was the loudest guy on the field. "They understood that I wasn't passing time, and that this is something I enjoy doing and I enjoy trying to make them better," he said.
McRae grew up in a baseball family. His father, Hal McRae, was an all-star in the major leagues and later became Brian's manager in Kansas City. Brian had a solid career himself, a .261 career hitter with 1,336 hits, 103 homers and 196 stolen bases. He had a 22-game hitting streak in 1991 and had a stellar season with the Cubs in 1995 when he led the National League in at-bats, finished second in doubles and fourth in hits.
Even when he was playing, McRae was thinking ahead and planning for a career after baseball. He took broadcasting classes at Kansas University during the major league strike in 1994, and he worked in radio and TV while still in the big leagues.
He had a special reason for raising money for cancer research.
"My mom had colon cancer," he explained. "It's all in remission. She's good. Since that happened four or five years ago, I got into some of the charities with cancer. When my mom got cancer, that's something that hit home."
When McRae was growing up, he spent about half the year in Bradenton, Fla., and the other half in Kansas City when his father was playing for the Royals. Once the high school football season ended in Kansas City, they'd return to Bradenton. And once the high school baseball season ended in Bradenton, he'd join his father in Kansas City.
McRae was offered a football scholarship at Kansas, but went straight to pro baseball after graduating from high school, the 17th pick in the first round by the home-town Royals. He was in the big leagues by the time he was 22.
McRae played American Legion baseball when his high school season was over, but they didn't have all of these summer travel teams when he was a teenager in the 1980s.
"I would have loved to have had this kind of instruction when I was a young kid," he said. "I grew up in a clubhouse (in the major leagues) and it was nice, but my high school coaching was not that good. It would have been nice to play summer ball against the competition that these guys play against, just to get you ready to keep going to the next level."
That's what he's trying to do now. He's trying to help kids reach the next level, whether that's college or pro ball.
"It would be a shame for me to sit around and do nothing," he said, "when maybe there's some people I can affect in a positive way."