When he was named coach of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds’ men’s baseball team at age 26, Vernon’s Terry McKaig had no prior experience.
That made him a perfect fit for a program that had nothing.
“We had no support, no money, we pretty much started from scratch,” said McKaig, now 52, who lives in Tsawwassen with his kids, daughter Jenna, 15, and son Trenton, 13.
McKaig was recently enshrined in the UBC Sports Hall of Fame in the Builders category for his immense contributions to the T-Birds’ baseball program.
McKaig took over in 1997, and was the main architect behind the successful rise of Thunderbird varsity baseball, building the program from the ground up.
He was a four-time Coach of the Year; 23 of his players were drafted by Major League Baseball, most notably UBC Hall of Famer Jeff Francis, who was selected ninth overall in the 2002 draft and had a stellar major league career, including starting for the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series against the Boston Red Sox (Coldstream’s Brooks McNiven, a 2021 UBC Hall of Fame inductee, was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by the San Francisco Giants).
In 2015, McKaig stepped away from coaching duties to fully concentrate on the role of Director of Baseball at UBC, where he raised upwards of $10 million for the construction of new state-of-the-art baseball facilities, including the Rose Indoor Training Centre and Tourmaline West Baseball Stadium.
“I always had high goals that I set, and I had aspirations of what I wanted to do with the program,” said McKaig. “To see where I left it after 23 years, I’m really proud of the legacy I left for future generations of players and coaches. They can continue on what we started.”
McKaig grew up playing minor baseball in Vernon, and credited longtime local baseball coaches Ron Miciuk and Al McNiven, along with legendary Enderby Legionnaires left-handed pitcher Daryl Leier, with instilling him with a love and passion for the sport.
“I always felt we were at a disadvantage compared to players from the Coast,” said McKaig. “They were around a lot of competition. But I thought we had pretty good setup in Vernon where, if you loved the game and wanted to get better at it, we had people that wanted to give their time and help us out.”
McKaig started out his playing career as a shortstop before moving to first base and finished his playing days as an outfielder. He attended North Idaho College from 1990-93, Albertson College of Idaho in 1994, and played at the Surrey-based National Baseball Institute in 1995-96.
In the summer of 1994, McKaig returned home from school and helped the Vernon Clearly Canadians win its only senior men’s B.C. championship at home with a victory over Victoria at Marshall Field.
McKaig also spent three years with Canada’s national team and was the first player ever signed by the Kelowna Grizzlies (now Falcons) of the then Pacific International Baseball League.
Like the sport itself, life came out of the bullpen and threw some nasty curveballs at McKaig, starting in 2020.
All those years of playing sports outside, unprotected, be it baseball or golf, resulted in a diagnosis of skin cancer in 2020.
“It was on my face, which I had cut off, and it wasn’t the nice kind,” said McKaig.
Strike two came in December 2021 when his wife, Davina, 49, died suddenly, leaving McKaig a widower with two teenagers.
McKaig might have been brushed back by life but he returned to the batter’s box.
He would start his own company called the Actuate Agency, where McKaig and his colleagues work with Canadian high school and university athletes in building their personal brand to be able to monetize the brand in this new name, image and likeness world the NCAA, in the United States, is creating.
“We help Canadian families in how to get their child properly recruited to college or university,” said McKaig. “Boys, girls, any sport. People ask how you go through the process, especially if you’re planning to go to the U.S. I’ve been doing this for a year now and it’s a lot of fun. We work with a lot of talented kids in B.C.”
Enshrinement into the UBC Hall of Fame is the third such honour for McKaig.
He is a member of the Grand Forks (B.C.) International Tournament Hall of Fame for coaching Team Canada in the tournament for about 15 years, and he’s also a member of the Okotoks (Alberta) Dawgs Baseball Club Hall of Fame. McKaig did a lot of work with the organization, and sent many of his UBC players to spend their summers playing there.
“I’m not that special,” laughed McKaig. “It’s nice to get that recognition but there’s still a lot I want to accomplish, too.”