T-Mac’s New Pitch

Tracy McGrady may have racked up a 10.80 ERA, but he enjoyed his minor league pitching debut nonetheless. (Getty Images)

Tracy McGrady may have racked up a 10.80 ERA, but he enjoyed his minor league pitching debut nonetheless. (Getty Images)

Tracy McGrady lasted one and two-thirds innings in his professional baseball debut, and laugh at that if you will, but only once did he work this deep into May in his entire 16-year NBA career.

His adopted sport, therefore, affords him a chance to throw us all for a changeup. And speaking of his best pitch, T-Mac used it Saturday to raise the curiosity level significantly of a crowd that came to see a bigger fish out of water than any beached whale. A 6-foot-8, lanky, 34-year-old rookie right-hander had the anxious giddy up of a teenager, and he looked … what’s the word? Not “promising” or even “good.” Content, that’s it. It was strange, and he seemed out of uniform, and you almost expected him to toss a finger roll off the mound. But content.

“Had a great time,” he said. “A lot of nerves running through my body.”

A potential Hall of Fame basketball player who always wanted to play every minute of every game was on a pitch count and didn’t seem to mind getting pulled early. Really, what’s to be annoyed about? He’s easily the main attraction of the Sugar Land Skeeters and perhaps the entire Atlantic League, and he’s able to live out a mid-life fantasy, and he can pursue and satisfy his baseball jones without any pressure to perform at a high level, and if this mushrooms into something more than a novelty act, at the very least he can say he was better than Michael Jordan at something.

“If this is the only time I pitch this season, it’s a gratifying feeling,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I started training for it.”

He’s not aiming for the major leagues and perhaps it’s just as well. His night was over after 35 pitches and five outs. He faced nine batters, walked two, struck out none, allowed two runs and tossed 18 strikes against the Somerset Patriots, who won’t flood the major leagues with talent anytime soon. In the baseball vernacular, he was roughed up and yet still walked off the mound with a smile bigger than his 10.80 ERA.

“I give myself a B-minus,” he said. “All in all, I did pretty well. I was just trying to relax and keep my composure. This is different territory for me.”

There’s no harm in doing a labor of love, even if it means long bus rides to games, staying in budget motels and essentially working for free. After spending his final sunset NBA season in San Antonio, and coming so close to finally winning a championship ring last June — damn you, Ray Allen — and having tired of playing overseas, McGrady swapped his sneakers for cleats and here he is.

That McGrady is able to play baseball anywhere on any level says plenty about the kind of athlete he is. How many NFL players could make a D-League team, for example? Or hockey players? The best all-around athletes are in basketball, and while baseball is mainly about technique — hitting, pitching, etc., things that take years to develop — a good athlete can at least be a pinch-runner or shag flies in the outfield if he can catch.

McGrady had a highlight-filled NBA career even if none of those highlights involved lifting a championship trophy. He could score from almost anywhere, and in his prime was regarded as the two or three best at his position. Bad luck with injuries and lousy timing with the Magic (who lost Grant Hill) and Rockets (who lost Yao Ming) conspired to keep him from reaching the second round of the playoffs, and only when the Spurs signed him late last season did he make it to the third week of May. At that stage of his career, only his ego was healthy.

This idea about giving baseball a try was hatched with the help of his neighbor, Roger Clemens. The Rocket’s son Koby is a catcher with the Skeeters and McGrady would often pitch, just for fun, with the family at the Clemens compound, which has a batting cage and regulation pitcher’s mound on the property. One conversation led to another and suddenly, McGrady began to take things seriously. All winter, he sought advice and was given lessons from Clemens, who pitched for the Skeeters two years ago at age 50. McGrady worked arm muscles that hadn’t been groomed since he was a high school junior.

He transferred to another school for his senior season — basketball reasons — but Mt. Zion Christian Academy didn’t have a baseball team and so his two-sport life ended. Perhaps for the better, as well; McGrady went straight from high school to the NBA and long story short became a seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ. The length of the NBA schedule made it near impossible for McGrady to pull a Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders and give two sports a try in the same year. And anyway, McGrady never seriously thought about it, at least not seriously enough to take any action.

In retirement, though, one can get all sorts of antsy. For McGrady, baseball is a way to keep his competitive spirit alive and to simply connect with baseball from point-blank range without needing it to prove a point or earn a living.

“I’m just out here to have fun,” he said. “No money, just the love for the game.”

For someone who lacks experience and is finally turning to the game at such an advanced age, what McGrady is doing makes little sense. But that all depends on how you look at it. If he sincerely hopes to reach the majors or even the minors, that would be a stretch (although, in his wildest dreams, T-Mac would love that). If he’s just looking for a release and an excuse to stay involved in sports, which he says is the case, then it’s harmless. For the Skeeters, he’ll sell tickets whenever he pitches. Otherwise, the club, like others in the independent league, is lucky to get a few thousand fans a game.

His only concern is being viewed as a joke, and he realizes that’s a possibility. In a warm-up exhibition game last month, McGrady surrendered three hits in one inning against a community college. And his debut Saturday didn’t exactly make anyone believe he could last three innings, much less a complete game. So he’s trying to look the part, at least.

“I’m working every day to get better, just to get into a good flow,” he said.

McGrady worked with Clemens on a split-fingered fastball, curveball and slider, in addition to the changeup. That’s a lot of arm motion for someone who hadn’t pitched in 18 years, and even then, only on the high school level. McGrady is throwing 85 mph but his control isn’t terrible for someone with his circumstances. His arm strength and mechanics are a work in progress and it’s a good thing he can fall back on his enthusiasm, which is the best thing he has going for him.

After his debut, he said baseball teams “aren’t used to seeing a 6-8 guy on the mound pitching to them.” No, they aren’t, especially when such guy was drawing an NBA paycheck just a year ago.

He had a handful of good seasons for the Houston Rockets, but they’ve since added James Harden and Dwight Howard and are good for now. That said, it’s too bad T-Mac is taking up baseball late in his athletic career. The major league team in his current town could use some help.

21 thoughts on “T-Mac’s New Pitch

  1. BOO! HISS! to your comment: “The best all-around athletes are in basketball, and while baseball is mainly about technique — hitting, pitching, etc., things that take years to develop — a good athlete can at least be a pinch-runner or shag flies in the outfield if he can catch.”

    That has to be the worst comment ever on this site. How many pro basketball players have crossed over and made it to pro baseball? The greatest basketball player to ever play, Michael Jordan couldn’t hack it, hell, even Danny Ainge did better than him, he made it to the show, but the stats were paltry. In the last 40 years only two cross over players played well in baseball, Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, both from pro football. T-Mac having some fun is nice, but you have to take it completely seriously to even have a chance to play baseball. There are 5 levels of PRO BASEBALL, whereas most of the NFL AND NBA players that are drafted right out of college go into the top level of the pros immediately. Either one of those sports don’t have much in terms of minor leagues.

    As far as your cheeky, baseball is all about technique comment – there is no way you have ever played baseball in your life with an off the cuff remark like that. It takes some serious strength and conditioning to play any pro sport – including baseball. Its a 162 game season, (and there might be 5 guys that play all 162 each year if lucky) and I’ll grant you its not as physical as the smashmouth NFL, nor running up and down a court for 5 miles per game like in the NBA, but you simply cannot just “shag flies” or “pinch run” for a career. If you play defense and shag flies as you say, you also have to play offense, meaning actually HIT a 90 to 100 mph fastball – which by the way is the hardest thing to do in pro sports – there is nothing quite like it, and it happens to take all four S’s in pro sports each and every time, STRENGTH (you need a thick lower half, leg strength to power a baseball into the stratosphere), SPEED (you get all of 3/10ths of a second to hit a 90mph fastball, good luck), STAMINA (when these guys practice hitting they take 100-200 swings in a cage every day, try it yourself on 90mph and see if you aren’t exhausted- I have), SMARTS (to outguess a pitcher on pitch selection, location and movement), AND THEN ADD EYE-HAND COORDINATION to the mix (its eye hand BTW, not hand eye, if you have ever played baseball). Horrible comment Shaun, just horrible. Pro baseball requires all the skills pro basketball or football does, and what’s more its the better sport, because at least you have a shot at a 20 year playing career (and more $), pro football and basketball, not even close.

    • Please calm down…….No one thinks baseball players are not real athletes….well maybe Bo Jackson who said, why play football and be hurt all the time when I can play baseball and be fine…………or is that before your time?

      • you didn’t even read what I wrote. I mentioned Bo Jackson in what I wrote, so its definitely NOT before my time pal. And I mentioned Danny Ainge which is way before Bo Jackson.

      • Actually if you do your research Mr Jackson later on in his career said baseball is much harder to play. To have to be physically and mentally prepared 5-6 days a week is more taxing then two. He also said it’s easier for the body to recuperate in football then baseball. And he also stated he could learn to play any position on a football field easier then hit a fastball or Curveball.

        And his last comment states that maybe 4% of basketball or football players could be successful in baseball. While about 20% of baseball players could be successful in basketball/football.

    • PRINCE FIELDER, SABAITHIA, BARTOLO COLON, BABE RUTH, all great baseball players but could not play basketball and be great in the shape and physique they are in.
      It helps to be in great condition in anysport, but unlike footbal and basketball and some others, in baseball it is possible for a player to get by with a great fastball or be a great hitter without being a great overall athelete. They do not NEED to jump for run to be an allstar. it hink that is the point of the author.

      • Do yourself a favor stop posting please. Fridge didn’t know the word jump, nor did Leon Lett. For every non athlete you just mentioned I could name 10 names in football.

      • How do you have a great fastball without being a great athlete? And how do you be a great hitter, capable of turning around 95 MPH fastballs with out the quickness of an elite athlete?

    • don’t forget about brian Jordan…..he had a longer and more successful career then both deion and bo. played three seasons in the nfl prior to 15 in the mlb.

  2. Sorry but i have to disagree, hockey players are by far the best athletes. Most were three sport stars, and many that I know are very good golfers too. They take a beating, have high endurance and have incredible hand eye coordination all at high speed on two blades of steel.

  3. I love basketball and that fact is LeBron James is the best athlete in the world. Now can LBJ hit fastball, not a chance but are you gonna tell me that tarnishes is athletic ability. hes a freak of nature how many guys can u say that about. to get your own shot off in the nba is dam the hardest thing to consistently do. but hitting a pitch off a mlb pitcher has to be one of the hardest things in sports but you cant tell me baseball players as a whole are the most athletic. A hot dog and beer diet are clearly what some players in the mlb live on. No nba player could live like that expect Shaq. he did like the big macs

    • Basketball players on average are better athletes and the sport generally requires more athleticism. I don’t see how anyone could question that.

      But there are no “hot dog and beer” diets in the MLB. Every single player works out at least 5 times a week in addition to all the daily conditioning stuff that is baseball-specific. They are great athletes. Even fatter players like Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia are actually good athletes, have great strength, and have surprising flexibility. More and more, you see baseball players being 6’3″ – 6’4″ and 220+ lbs of muscle.

    • LeBron isn’t the greatest athlete in the world let’s see LeBron in a triathlon.

      • I’d put my money on LeBron in a triathlon. The guy is conditioned. But, I doubt he could hit a 90mph fastball.

  4. i enjoyed comment on both sides gentleman. lets just enjoy what hese guys do. as tracy said hes doing it for the love of the game.just like kevin costner .good day gentleman;keep it clean enjoyed it .thank you .

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