One moment of hesitation. That’s all Winterboro junior Troy McKinney needs to capitalize when it comes time for him to run the bases.
“We were playing at Altamont, and he looked at me and said, ‘I want to bunt right here,’” Winterboro baseball coach Alex Johnson said. “I said, ‘Go ahead,’ because a bunt for him is not taking the bat out of his hands. You’re utilizing one of his tools. So he bunted it, and I’m talking not even ball-width from home plate, and he was safe at first, and it blew my mind.”
On Thursday, Winteboro’s leader in stolen bases (roughly 26 this season), McKinney put his speed to work for the baseball team for the last time when the Bulldogs fell 8-3 and 8-3 to Kinston in the first second-round playoff series in school history.
McKinney drove in the Bulldogs’ first run of the day in the sixth inning of game one. The junior then stole second and third base before heading home after a poor throw to third base sailed off course, allowing him to score.
While the Bulldogs hoped to continue their historic run, McKinney won’t have time to dwell on the losses as he prepares to put his speed to work Friday and Saturday. That's when the junior competes in the Class 1A state track and field meet.
He's a busy athlete. In addition to running track, playing centerfield for the baseball team, he also is a defensive lineman for the football team and a member of the basketball team.
Johnson praised McKinney as one of four batters to propel Winterboro out of the first round. McKinney, a long-time baseball player sat out last season because he thought he couldn’t do baseball and track because they often occur at the same time.
Although he decided to prioritize track and field, McKinney couldn’t shake the itch of baseball and wandered over to the diamond one day either right before or just after track practice last year before everything shut down.
“I was like, 'Man I miss it,'” McKinney said. “So I went over to talk to coach (Johnson) and let me get a few hits in and show what I got. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you play this year?’”
Speaking of the track team, there McKinney is an unquestioned leader after he qualified for a team-high four events (among the guys) in his first full season.
“He’s kind of already there setting an example,” Winterboro track coach Hunter Millard said. “A lot of people want to look at Troy and see him do well. … And, they want to also do that well. They see some of the things he’s doing as technique, and they try to do that, so in a way, he’s already doing that, and I can only imagine that will continue next season as well.”
While McKinney is known around the school for his speed, he said the event he most wants to win this weekend is the long jump. If he can come close to duplicating his personal record 22-foot, 1.5-inch jump this weekend, then McKinney will likely do just that.
That distance would have given him first place in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“You feel like you’re so free, and then you’re just jumping, you get everybody saying, ‘Ohhh, ahhh, you’re so good,’” McKinney said Wednesday, explaining his love of the long jump.
His record on the triple jump (43-5) would have placed him either first or second in each of the last three seasons, excluding last year when no state meet occurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millard said the school didn’t have the proper equipment to practice for that event before McKinney jumped 43 feet in his first competition.
“Everyone around him was really impressed,” Millard said. “And he just looked at me and said, ‘Was that good?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure you just won.’”
McKinney’s numbers in the 100- and 200-meter dashes aren’t quite as dominant. His times of 11.44 seconds and 23.54 seconds have him finishing fourth or fifth on average in each event over the last three seasons.
Both of these would still be significant achievements for anyone, especially for someone who has spent the entire spring splitting time between track and baseball, not to mention his part-time job at Walmart.
“For him to work all of that out and still have time for him to do everything that he wants to do, I am very happy,” said McKinney’s mother, Lakeysha Williams.
However, McKinney’s magical week for the Bulldogs almost didn’t happen. In the off-season, he considered dropping football and all of his other sports to work full-time.
“People would tell me I would never be nothing in football, like I won’t get no scholarships or people to look at me or nothing,” McKinney said. “All my hard work in football is just hard work going down the drain.”
In his mind, working was the responsible thing to do with his time. Luckily, his mother set him straight.
“And I told him this: ‘No Troy,’” Williams said. “‘You have your whole life ahead of you to work, after school, and after you get out of college. That is your whole life. You only have one year of each grade in school so enjoy your time.’”
The junior said juggling all three this spring while also keeping his grades up hasn’t been too difficult, but both his baseball and track coaches have seen him power through without complaint on days he seemed to be exhausted.
“When you look at his body language, he might act tired,” Millard said. “But, when it comes time to actually do something, he is going to make it happen. He is going to make it look easy.”