By Dick Dornan
BurbankNBeyond Sports Editor
Ian and Sam McKinnon are brothers in arms determined to succeed in life and all the challenges that lie ahead. The two scholar-athletes take pride daily in donning their Burbank baseball gear and playing the game with passion and purpose. In nine months, the McKinnon brothers will have to set aside the Bulldog blue and white for an opportunity to wear the red, white and blue of America.
Taking advantage of a one-day tryout on August 5 at Hartunian Field in Encino, the McKinnon brothers experienced the ultimate walk-off moment of their lives. Together they were selected to represent the United States junior baseball team at the 19th World Maccabiah Games in Israel from July 17-30, 2013.
With tryouts being held across the country in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, the McKinnon brothers were two of 16 players chosen. It was an honor that left them excited yet humbled.
“It’s not every day you get this opportunity to play for your country. This is probably one of the most important things that have happened in my life,” said Ian, a senior who bats leadoff and plays the outfield for Burbank. “When I learned of the opportunity it was pretty special. I never thought about the possibility of representing my country. All I’ve done is played high school baseball and now it’s on a much bigger level against different countries and kids from all around the world. I think that is the most special part.”
“It’s pretty special because so many people say how much they love their country but they never get to go somewhere and show what our country is made of,” added Sam, a junior catcher for the Bulldogs. “Now we get the chance to go and say, ‘I love America and we are proving what America is made of.’”
Born and raised in Burbank, the McKinnon brothers characterize integrity, class and a work ethic that is second to none. They excel in the classroom with Ian, 17, maintaining a 4.5 grade point average and Sam, 16, a 4.2 GPA. Then it’s off to practice to play the sport they love at a maximum effort.
“They are self-propelling. They have a way of enjoying the moment and enjoying the process,” Burbank Coach Bob Hart said. “You have to be out there every day when no one is watching and no one is clapping. That’s what separates them. They go above and beyond what is required. That’s why they excel. They have expectations and they strive for them.”
The biggest challenge for Ian and Sam will be raising $8,000 each to make the trip to Israel. They will be a part of ISRAEL CONNECT which is a program that allows them the chance to visit and tour Israel. For a week prior to the baseball tournament, they will learn more about the Judaism faith, heritage and tradition.
For more information on sponsoring the McKinnon brothers, log on to www.maccabiusa.com/support/make-a-contribution.html.
Then it’s time for the Maccabiah Games which is a celebration of Jewish unity, culture and heritage through world athletic competition. Countries such as Israel, Canada, England, Mexico and Australia will compete against the United States in baseball.
“It’s a big tradition in Israel. It’s been going on for a long time,” Ian said. “It’s a big honor for everyone else around the world too.”
The Maccabiah Games are officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Since 1953, the Games have been held every four years in Israel in the year following the Olympics. In 2013, more than 7,000 world-class athletes from more than 50 countries are expected to participate in 31 sports.
“I like it because it’s the same year as the Olympics and it’s a branch off of what the Olympics are,” Sam said. “I love watching the Olympics on TV. This is a thrill because this is kind of like my Olympics that I get to go to.”
As the proud sons of Brian and Andrea McKinnon and older brothers of Jack, 10, the McKinnons have earned the right and privilege to experience an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After all, good things happen to good people.
“I’m proud of them. They play hard and they leave it all out on the field,” Hart said. “But even more so that they are representing our country.”
Two brothers, one journey.
“I’m proud of him. Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done if one of us made it and the other hadn’t,” Ian said of Sam. “This is the best of both worlds that we made the team and we are both going together.”
“To be together is a comfort thing for both of us,” Sam explained. “Only 16 kids every four years get to go to Israel to represent your country. This is something that I will be telling my kids about one day. That I was one of those 16 kids who represented the USA.”
After the incredible experience abroad for the McKinnons, it will be back to business at Burbank High as the Bulldogs look to improve upon last season, its best in 20 years.