A parking sticker from University of South Carolina Upstate and an Ontario license plate adorn the back of Kyle McKay's maroon Hyundai.
No, he's not from around here. He is not the typical student at the University of Saint Francis, a private Catholic school where most students come from the Midwestern U.S.
Yet McKay is in many ways a classic Fort Wayne success story.
The city became a home when he needed acceptance most, and McKay, who starred on the Cougars' baseball team, did what he loved while expanding horizons.
It was quite the path here.
Raised in King City, a rural Canadian community with an estimated population of 7,350. Stopovers at two American colleges in two different states.
The senior drove in what proved the winning run in a victory May 5 at the Crossroads League tournament, though a loss later that day ended his career.
He's not done, though, with Fort Wayne or Saint Francis. The connections run too deep.
To understand McKay – and why this city and school struck such a chord – one must begin with his hometown.
One main intersection. Two nonchain restaurants. Two gas stations. One high school.
“Everyone knows each other,” McKay said.
There, his father, Marvin, placed a baseball and a hockey puck in his crib as an infant. There, his mother, Lorri, who runs a children's dance studio, taught him the value of competition. And there he made friends for life.
As a junior in high school, McKay and his parents first conceived the idea of him attending college in the States. Even after McKay signed with Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Illinois, that idea of leaving was a long way from becoming reality in his mind.
“It was a month coming up when it started hitting me, ‘Man, I don't know if I want to do this,' ” McKay said. “It was going to be such a change. It was definitely scary.”
At Kaskaskia, a junior college that offered free housing, meals and textbooks and a reputation for sending players on to bigger and better things, McKay found a “big, big culture shock.”
“The way things are done in the States – much more training – was very tough,” he said. “They're paying you in a way. It was a huge shock from Canadian baseball.”
But after two seasons, Kaskaskia had served its purpose when McKay received a stream of Division I offers. He visited Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Nice school and facilities. Great weather.
He signed on, only to be disappointed. Academically, an “extremely tough” business school changed his career plans.
Before the 2012 season even started, McKay suffered a severe strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow and wound up redshirting.
To make matters worse, socially, he was lost among a crowd of 5,500 faces.
“It was a lot bigger school than I was used to,” he said. “When you go to class and there's no one on your team there, you feel lost.”
Then came an end-of-the-year meeting with Spartans coaches, who McKay said grumbled about his injury and decided to pull future scholarship funds.
McKay called his parents. Upstate was not the right destination, after all. He'd have to try again.
“You've got to enjoy life,” McKay said. “I wasn't.”
As he called around, one voice on the other end was that of Jason Booth, a family friend, connected in Canadian baseball circles, a former assistant at Saint Francis.
In the summer of 2012, on his way home, McKay dropped by the campus.
“Just from being here a couple hours and getting a feel for it, it was, ‘This is the place I want to go to,' ” he said.
Unlike McKay's previous college coaches, Greg Roberts let him bat in addition to pitching, a gesture McKay described as a “huge honor.”
“I'd seen him play growing up and knew he's a pretty good hitter,” Roberts said. “We thought we'd give him a chance and see.”
McKay was honored on the 2013 all-league first team as a designated hitter.
He enjoyed success as a transfer because of teammates.
“They accepted me right off the bat,” McKay said. “Both of the schools I was at before, you weren't accepted from Day 1. Here I was.”
McKay viewed Fort Wayne as a big city – still does – but jumped in headfirst.
“I was a little nervous but saw it as an opportunity to try something different,” he said. “There's a lot to do. My first school was in a very small town with nothing really to do. Upstate was in a city, but there wasn't really much there. I didn't want to spend my last two years in the middle of nowhere.”
McKay relished nightlife downtown and the friendliness of a small campus.
He loves his home country, even played for the Canadian team in the 2013 World Baseball Challenge.
“National pride; wish we had more of that,” said Cougars assistant Dustin Butcher, referring to the U.S.
But Fort Wayne grew on McKay, made him enjoy city life, even though he misses that special sauce at King City's Pizza, Pizza.
And Saint Francis?
“It brought back that love of the game,” McKay said. “This is a second home to me – this school, this state and this city. The connections I've made reminded me so much of home.”