MacKenzie Gore has a special left arm. There is little doubt about why he exists on this earth. But part of the human condition is considering what could have been. A different travel ball team could have meant distinct coaches. Those coaches could have emphasized weight lifting over calisthenics or curveballs over sliders. Thankfully, Gore made the right decisions, but there is still room for him to speculate.
“I hadn’t decided [on my degree], but I was leaning towards something like accounting,” Gore said.
Gore passed on East Carolina University (ECU) for the San Diego Padres after being selected third overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. It is hard to imagine the lefty sitting behind a desk crunching numbers after watching him channel the energy of 8,000-plus on Independence Day in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The loud aesthetics of his delivery are unmistakable when he steps between the lines. Off the field he possesses a quiet confidence and poise. Balancing these two dynamics has become an integral part of his success.
“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Gore said. “But once I get off the [field], it’s like I flip a switch, I’m really calm, I’m laid back.”
If Gore’s personality mimicked his play, the result would be less exciting. The aesthetics of his delivery and resulting performance may always speak louder than his personality.
Few can attest to the pitcher’s demeanor better than East Carolina University’s (ECU) Head Coach, Cliff Godwin. Gore praised the former college catcher and first baseman for his ability to be a “player’s coach.” Their relationship developed from one of player and coach to a genuine friendship. This gave Godwin a first-hand look at how Gore’s laser-focus in pursuit of his goals.
During this past offseason, Gore lived in the second floor of Godwin’s home. He trained with ECU’s strength coach and used their facilities as he geared up for his first full season of professional baseball.
“The guy lived like a very mature adult,” Godwin said. “His work ethic is unmatched for a kid that I’ve seen at the age of 18.”
Gore’s hobbies, hunting and fishing, fit his personality like a glove. Much like his pitching motion, each activity features extended moments of calm broken up by captivating explosions.
Sometimes those explosions are different. Gore possesses two variations of his delivery from the stretch. One resembles Gore’s louder windup mechanics while the other is an abbreviated drive towards the plate.
“I feel like sometimes if I go quick it messes with the hitter’s timing,” said Gore about the variations above.
Switching things up not only messes with timing, but it also keeps runners honest. After graduating high school in 2017, Gore found himself with the Padres Rookie Ball team in Arizona, where his high school dominance continued without pause. He did not experience a major difference in effectiveness from the windup and stretch.
After battling two stints on the disabled list with a blister problem, Gore finally settled into life in the Midwest League. Struggling with runners on base, however, has become a mark on an otherwise pristine track record.
“I just have to be consistent with [the variations], I haven’t been really good out of the stretch with the smaller leg kick,” Gore said. “Everything has been working out of the windup so far.”
For any young prospect, struggle is inevitable. Gore takes hard coaching better than those who “blow his head up” when he succeeds. This is one reason he meshed so well with his high school coach Brett Harwood in Whiteville, North Carolina. According to Gore, Godwin employs a similar no-nonsense mentality. The ECU coach became a logical addition to the support system Gore has in place.
“I don’t have any sympathy for people who don’t like to work hard,” Godwin said.
Godwin thinks of “hard coaching” as the desire to get the most out of players. He never coached Gore at ECU, but that didn’t limit his desire to help Gore grow. Godwin didn’t hesitate to provided perspective on the lefty’s initial struggles this season.
“We’ve had some honest conversations like, ‘Hey man, did you think that it was just going to be easy? That you just go into professional baseball and end up in the big leagues and you never have a setback?’” Godwin said.
It appears Gore took this point to heart. He has produced the first six-inning start of his career and set a new career high in strikeouts for one game at 10 since his second stint on the disabled list. His personal accolades help fans and analysts understand the track of his development and set expectations. In contrast, Gore cites winning as the only matter of interest on a start-by-start basis. He silences all the noise around him and competes.
“You can tell MacKenzie I don’t think he would’ve made it in accounting,” Godwin said. “Then again, MacKenzie might just get really competitive and prove me wrong.”
Gore’s path into professional baseball has been a series of calculated decisions. Had he chosen differently, the result might have been a career in accounting. In another universe, he might have never recovered from his early season struggles. But in the present, he’s content with his decision to forego ECU to start a career in professional baseball. His balance on and off the field has allowed his hard work to pay dividends.
“I made the right choice, and I haven’t looked back.”