MacKenzie Gore: Whiteville's star aiming for the major leagues ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)

MacKenzie Gore: Whiteville's star aiming for the major leagues ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)
Listen to previous episodes of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast with guests including Vivian Howard, Charlie Daniels, Keith Rhodes and Hayley Lovitt, by clicking the llinks inside this story.
Listen to previous episodes of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast with guests including Vivian Howard, Charlie Daniels, Keith Rhodes and Hayley Lovitt, by clicking the llinks inside this story.

MacKenzie Gore has had a lot of success on the baseball field. His career includes three state championships at Whiteville High School, four trips to the state finals, being named state and national player of the year, and taken third by the San Diego Padres in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft. Quite a list of accomplishments for an 18-year-old. There have been a couple times along the way when the tall lefthanded pitcher did not live up to his own high expectations.This may be bad news for opposing teams, but each time MacKenzie Gore has fallen short, he ended up coming back stronger.

After winning state championships as a freshman and sophomore with the Wolfpack, Gore was nearly untouchable during his brilliant junior season. He finished 12-0, striking out nearly two batters for every inning he pitched. The team made it back to the 1A state finals but was swept by Cherryville high School. The sudden, unexpected loss was a first for Gore. He reflects now that it made him a better player and teammate.

"It made me be a better leader," he says of the series defeat. "I had a great year, stats wise. But I had to be a better leader for the team the next year. From that day we lost until the start of the next year, I had that drive. I wanted to win. Losing was a terrible feeling."

Months later Gore was invited to San Diego, to take part in the Perfect Game All-Star Classic, pitching against the best high school players from across the country. His one inning of work for the East Team was not Gore-like. He gave up a run, two hits, two walks and threw a wild pitch. But, Gore took the performance and used it as motivation.

"I didn't throw very well," he admits, looking back at the opportunity. "That was good too for me, because I saw where I was compared to the best high school players in the country. I wanted to be the best out of all of them, so that off-season I worked as hard as I could, and I had that drive. I had those two times in my life that I didn't succeed, and I was a lot better player the next year."

Gore's senior season began, and as the only senior on Whiteville's team, he took on the task of leading on and off the field. "I'd get on them at practice and they wouldn't always like me," he says. "There were times Coach (Brett) Harwood would call me out, when I wasn't doing the things I needed to do. We held each other accountable, and that's why we had success."

Success came in the form of a fourth straight appearance in the 1A finals, and the third state championship in Gore's four-year career. His statistics were strong, 11-0 with 158 strikeouts in 74 innings. But the goal was accomplished. Whiteville had another state title. The hard work in the off-season paid dividends. His 96 mph fastball and command of four pitches began to draw a new level of attention from baseball scouts. Talk of Gore being a potential first-round pick in the 2017 Major League Draft appeared on internet blogs and " target="_blank">social media. An amazing transformation for a young man who at the age of ten had more interest in other sports, like soccer.

"All my friends played (baseball), so I just started doing it, and started having a little bit of success," Gore remembers. "When you live in Whiteville, everybody plays baseball. So, you get that feeling, and just keep going, and I got to where I was working hard at it, tasted some success and it made me want to keep going." MacKenzie talks about the player he looked up to at 5:15 of the podcast.

Harwood says he began to notice Gore's ability as he worked through his middle school years. By the time he arrived at the high school level, the coaches saw that Gore had the chance to play baseball after his days at Whiteville came to an end. Gore says that's also when he started to notice his left arm was special.

"When I started getting into high school and dominating games, taking over on the mound, you could tell that I was going to be able to play in college," Gore said. "I never really thought about the pro stuff until this past year and a little bit of my junior year. The mid-point of this season, it was 'uh oh, this is legit. We might have a chance to get drafted'."

The attention brought scouts, media and throngs of fans to Whiteville baseball games. Harwood went so far as to designate Tuesday as the night Gore would pitch. Gore credits the team with not letting the extra attention become a distraction during the 25-6 season.

"This year's team handled it as good as anybody could have," Gore says. "You would see articles during the playoffs that said, 'this team is taking on Gore', they wouldn't say 'this team is taking on Whiteville'. I got tired of hearing it too. But the players knew that I was all in the for the team, I wasn't a selfish guy, and I would do anything for them. It worked out good, and they handled it just as good as they could've."

MacKenzie spent draft night with his family, and he talks about getting the phone call from the Padres at 15:15 of the podcast. He reported to the team's franchise in the Arizona Rookie League in July, and had a strong start. He struck out 31 hitters in his first 20 innings of work, and did not give up a run in four of his first six appearances. His seventh and final game did not go as well, lasting less than two innings, giving up two runs and walking three batters. But in MacKenzie Gore-like fashion, he learned from the experience.
"It was good because if kind of got me hungry going into the offseason," he says. "Really, I learned that not everything is going to be perfect. Not everything is going to be set out for me. When I face adversity, I've got to get people out. Get my routine in before a game and be able to prepare."

Gore's off-season included training with East Carolina University Head Coach Cliff Godwin. Gore had committed to play at ECU early in his high school career, and he says he formed a strong bond with Godwin during the process. He believes the workout program will help him be ready for the longer seasons ahead.

"The offseason is huge because you've got goals you want to meet, and you want to get better every day, get stronger and be able to hold up for a full season," he says.

After signing the $6.6 million contract with San Diego, Gore did splurge a little on himself. He bought a new truck, and a new set of golf clubs, too. Golf is one of MacKenzie's outlets, he says, along with hunting. Getting away and having time to reflect on what his hard work has accomplished so far, and what lies ahead.

"If I'm going to be successful, I'm going to have to learn something new every day, watch the older guys when I get to spring training, the big leaguers, and see how they do things. It'll be a lot of fun."

I think it is going to be fun watching MacKenzie Gore's professional career unfold. He gave Whiteville a lot of memories over the past four years. Now it's time for him to create memories while wearing a different uniform.

You can listen to the entire interview with MacKenzie Gore on the free "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast:

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