The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 18, 2014

McClung: Retirement came at right time

ALDERSON — Having pitched his last Major League baseball game with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, Seth McClung was hoping for one more shot at the big leagues when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates this past November after a few seasons in the minors and even in Mexico, trying to earn his way back.

But after pitching well during limited spring training action with the big league club — his final pitch was a 93 mile-per-hour fastball that helped him strike out the side — he received the call that ended his comeback attempt on March 22, when the Pirates told him he was released.

“I think I fit in with the Major League plans as a backup guy in the minor leagues to call up, but they were really having a youth movement,” said McClung of his experience with the Pirates. “I don’t think they expected me to throw that well, and they didn’t have a spot. I took it as a sign from God that it was time to move on. Once I accepted that, everything else fell into place for me.”

After 16 years playing professional baseball, McClung decided enough was enough. He had other offers to keep the dream alive, but he decided it was time to remove the jersey for good.

On the same day, McClung retired from baseball and resigned his position as the girls’ varsity basketball coach at Osceola High School in Florida. He was preparing to start a business providing baseball lessons and training when he got another fateful call, this one asking him if he’d be interested in taking over the program at Keswick Christian School.

He soon accepted, beginning a completely new chapter in his life.

Now McClung — who was also a standout basketball player for the Spartans in high school — is adjusting to coaching hitting and fielding instead of giving instruction on dribbling and shooting.

“It’s very different. First, it’s boys (instead of) girls,” he said of his new role Wednesday while in Alderson providing a free baseball camp for young players. “Boys are a little less sensitive, so you can push them a little harder. But baseball is all about practice. I can only prepare the kids to do their jobs, and after that I have no control over what happens. In basketball, you can manipulate a lot more — you can call plays or sets or call time-out. Baseball, it’s all about how prepared you are.

“This game is so slow. I see everything, and I feel like I’m watching a train wreck in slow motion sometimes. I try to tell the guys what’s going to happen, but I can’t get them in the right positions. I’m learning how to convey that message.”

He’s also learning to transform his team into a winner. The Keswick program, he said, hasn’t been bad in recent seasons, but it hasn’t been great, either. The team hasn’t won a district championship — the equivalent of a sectional crown in West Virginia — since 1985.

“The first thing I did was schedule 35 games in the summer,” said McClung of his plan of attack. “That really established that we were going to play. It was something we hadn’t done in the past. Our school is like 150 kids in the school, and every kid plays every sport. We can play year round in Florida, so I got them in the mindset of we were going to play baseball.”

Less than three months after announcing his retirement from professional baseball, McClung is confident he made the right decision.

“I love being a dad at home all the time with my two little girls (Madison and Fallon),” he said. “My wife (Stephanie) has a job as a finance director for one of the candidates for governor in Florida, which is exciting for her. I like being at home. I like coaching. I always said I don’t want to work a day in my life, and as long as I’m on the field helping kids, I’m not working.

“I don’t miss it. I miss the guys, but if I really miss them, I’ll just give them a phone call. This is the right opportunity. I like where I am and where I’m going.”

That doesn’t mean McClung hasn’t taken some time to look back. He remembers some great moments in his career — like pitching four innings against the Cubs to help the Brewers win the Wild Card and a start on ESPN where he beat the Cleveland Indians to knock them out of the playoffs.

But what McClung said he values most from his career isn’t the wins and losses.

“My personal growth from being a huge fish in a small pond in West Virginia to learning how to deal with failure was what I look back on the most,” he said. “I’d never really been taken out of a game before I got to pro ball, so I had to learn how to deal with that. I made every mistake possible and learned how to be a man. The journey and the growth is what really jumps out at me.”

Overall, McClung believes he underachieved during his professional baseball career, which saw him post a 26-34 record and a 5.46 ERA. He had some great moments and was a key part of the Brewers bullpen late in his career, but in three seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and three with the Brewers, he never felt he lived up to his full potential.

“I didn’t take it as serious as I should have,” he said. “I threw 103 miles-per-hour. I probably should have done a little better.

“But all things happen for a reason. If I had done things differently, I might not have my wife and my two daughters. I might not be (in Alderson) helping out. I just can’t imagine a life like that for me. I’m more excited about where I’m going than where I’ve been.”

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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