The Dave McKay story: “My Life in the Dugout’ Dot baseball coaching legend takes his seat in Yawkey League Hall of Fame

From left, Ben Mendelson, Paul Grammer, Glenn Ducharme, Kevin George, Tim Dacey, Hall of Famer Jon Tenney, Dan Zakrewski, and Fran Strassmann.  Photo courtesy Kevin George

Dave McKay before a May 20 game at Garvey Park in Neponset. Photo courtesy McKay Club

Dave McKay, then 13, sat in his math classroom decades ago at the former St. Marks School on Centre Street ditching his assignment to focus on calculating statistics for the neighborhood baseball team he was helping to coach. He took over coaching duties at age 15.

“My father worked 16-hour days and he couldn’t watch my brother’s games, so I went all the time,” McKay said. “The coach noticed me and said, ‘You’re here all the time, keep score for me.’ That’s how it began.”

Today, the formidable skipper of the legendary Yawkey League McKay Club Beacons is in his 56th year of coaching and his 40th year of leading the McKay Club amateur adult team. On May 19, at a banquet in Quincy, his lifelong devotion to baseball – and to the players themselves – was recognized with his induction into the League’s Hall of Fame.

Dave McKay with his nephew, Kyle McKay, who played for the McKay Club for several years – a time Dave described as a very special opportunity to coach a family member. Photo by Kevin George

To Dave McKay, coaching not only involves strategy on the diamond, but also lifetime bonds with young men who needed a chance to keep “playing ball” – even if at times that meant bailing them out of jail or keeping them out of jail.

“I don’t think I ever got any of that bail money back,” he joked in a recent interview, noting that the early days of the club were as much about keeping guys in the straight and narrow as winning. “It’s all being part of something and it’s great being part of something meaningful,” said the 71-year-old McKay. “A lot of people my age are thrown aside like the rubbish. I always thought about what I would do with my life after retirement. I knew I always had baseball…The relationships you have with people are so important, and the players are my energy.”

That energy has often meant giving players second chances to excel after going through tough times. He recalled a friend asking if a guy who had just gotten out of jail and needed a positive outlet could get a spot on the team. McKay said he bristled, but then thought, “What would Jesus do? Would he throw the guy to the street and tell him to go to hell? No. So, I gave the guy the ball and he pitched a no-hitter right there. He had been in jail and was more of a hockey player, but he stepped up and pitched a no-hitter. That’s what the McKay Club has done and it’s what we’re all about.”

A retired teacher and city employee who still lives in Adams Corner, McKay is now seen as an “elder statesman” who attends every game and provides key guidance to a league that has always mixed college players keeping fresh over the summer with blue-collar neighborhood legends. The name on the back of his jersey is ‘Uncle Buck,’ after the movie character played by the late John Candy. But it’s also speaks to the family atmosphere he has created. “This is the way baseball was made to be played, not by professionals but amateurs that play hard and enjoy the game,” he quipped.

With no kids of his own, McKay has poured his life into baseball and into players like Dorchester’s Mike Kazmouski, his brother Danny, and their friends. Mike, now 58, began playing for McKay as a nine-year-old rookie in the former Mill Stream Little League, which was a thriving baseball community pulling players in central Dorchester’s Fields Corner from St. Mark, St. Ambrose, St. Peter, and St. Gregory parishes.

“It’s a story that starts in my childhood,” said Kazmouski, who ended up playing for McKay over a 21-year span through Little League, Babe Ruth League, Jr. Park League, and finally for the McKay Club before retiring just a few years ago.

“The thing I appreciated the most is we all had regular jobs,” he said. “You may have had a tough day on the job, but you could look forward to the fact that you had a baseball game that night. I played on McKay Club with kids I grew up with – mostly Dorchester guys at first and then the Southie guys came in and Dave kept it together. That was something great to be able to play baseball as an adult with guys I had as friends my whole life. It was my second family.”

McKay’s love of baseball is no act; it’s a life pursuit, said Kazmouski. “A lot of kids and guys in Dorchester owe a lot to Dave because he always provided something for us to do. He really, really helped a lot of people here in keeping baseball around.”

South Boston’s Jack Owens, the athletic director for Boston Latin School (BLS), agrees wholeheartedly with Kazmouski. He came to the McKay Club after his freshman year of baseball at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He wanted to keep “fresh and focused” in centerfield over the summer, and McKay gave him the chance. After college, he was able to keep going – something that isn’t available without someone like McKay weighing in.

“It’s an opportunity for guys that love the game to continue playing at a high level,” Owens said. “It’s not beer league softball or slow pitch. It’s high-level ball…There isn’t anything beyond post-playing careers in baseball. The pickup sports don’t lend themselves to baseball, and the Yawkey League is unique. Dave has been a major part of keeping it alive all these years.”

Added Dorchester’s Kevin George, who was a rival player and coach with the South Boston Saints team, “He gave guys from Dorchester a chance to play. A lot of guys didn’t go on to college despite being college-level talent. They went on to the trades, but they still had the opportunity as top-notch players to play against college players. It was competition at a time when not everyone went off to college to play.”

McKay’s time in amateur baseball started when his core players got older and wanted to keep playing. They joined the Junior Park League in 1984 as the McKay Club within the Mill Stream organization. As the neighborhood changed, there were fewer kids and fewer schools in central Dorchester, and Mill Stream folded, but the McKay Club kept going. In 1990, McKay went independent, leaning on the Yawkey family – then the owners of the Red Sox – to sponsor them. That move spawned the Yawkey League.

Suddenly the league was top-tier and growing, said George. It eventually expanded the regular season to 33 games with 22 teams. One game a week was broadcast and replayed on Comcast Cable, crowds attended games, and box scores and standings were a daily staple in Boston newspapers.

The teams played in various parks, including Town Field, Garvey Park, Clifford Park (The Prairie), Toohig Park, McConnell Park, and even Ronan Park. During the late Mayor Tom Menino’s administration, the city and the McKay Club agreed to bring the games up to Ronan for positive, safe activity at night – a move that saw the field upgraded and the team “flourishing” with large crowds.

“Dave McKay thought big and is a larger-than-life character with big ideas and probably had a little P.T. Barnum in him – in a good way,” said George. “He brought Yawkey baseball somewhere that most of us wouldn’t have imagined possible.”

One of those big ideas was to play Yawkey League All-Star games at Fenway Park, which the Red Sox agreed to for more than 10 years. It was a shining moment for most players, including Owens and Kazmouski.

Kazmouski said he played in Fenway, a treat made special when McKay let him play right field like his baseball idol Dwight Evans, the Red Sox outfielder in the 1970s and 1980s, as his young son Evan (for Dwight) watched from the dugout. “I had a moment out there by myself,” he recalled. “Dewey had played right where I stood. That was my favorite moment with the McKay Club.”

Though they have never won a championship, the McKay Club has been a contender for decades, a playoff team most years, and a championship series finalist a couple of times. For the core group of Dorchester and South Boston players, no matter what the record showed, leaving the team was never an option.

“I saw a great sense of loyalty in playing for Dave,” said Owens, who retired in 2015. “He took me in and gave me a start and allowed me to be a part of it after college. There was never a doubt I would only play for the McKay Club… He’s a great friend of mine to this day.”

Earlier this month, on May 20, the McKay Club Beacons took the field at the new Garvey Park and McKay was there to start his 40th year coaching the team. He said there is a need to get the younger crowd back into the game and to take over the reins, but that doesn’t mean he’s leaving the dugout any time soon.

“I’m not going to leave until I they take me over to Holy Cross Cemetery,” he said. “I’m a lifer…This is what I live for.”

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