By Cam Huffman
Greenbrier East High School graduate Seth McClung has done about everything on a baseball diamond. He’s played six seasons in the big leagues, where he won 26 games, recorded six saves and struck out 314 hitters that have made it to the sport’s biggest stage.
The 32-year-old lefty has made enough money to support his family of three — wife Stephanie and kids Madison (4) and Fallon (2) — taking in more than $1.6 million in 2009, his final season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
But when spring rolls around, McClung will be riding the buses, spending hours in the training room and traveling the long, exhausting road to try to get back to the MLB.
McClung signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday and will be back with an affiliated club after spending last season pitching in Mexico and Taiwan.
“It’s exciting for me and for my family,” said the 1999 East graduate, who had five saves and a 1.69 ERA in 13 games with Monterey and was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in 11 games with Puebla. “I’m just blessed that God has kept me in it this long. I’ll be entering my 16th professional season. A lot of guys don’t get the opportunity to play — let alone do it for close to two decades. I’m really thankful for the opportunity, and I’m going to work hard and see how it plays out.”
The experience of playing international baseball was an interesting one for McClung, who was drafted out of high school in the fifth round in 1999, but he’s certainly glad to be back in the states.
“I respect all the cultures and enjoyed playing the game, but I’m definitely glad to be coming home,” said McClung, who said he could fake his way through Spanish but was lost when it came to trying to communicate in Chinese. “I was in two non-tourist towns, and it was hard to communicate.”
But McClung made the most of it, keeping alive the dream of making it back to the majors, where he spent 2003, 2005 and 2006 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and 2007 through 2009 with the Milwaukee Brewers. After throwing well in Mexico, he reached out to Tyrone Brooks, the Pirates’ scouting director, and a deal was eventually reached.
He’s not sure at which level the journey will begin — the contract didn’t come with an invite to spring training — but he’s preparing to get in shape for whichever Pirates affiliate includes his name on its roster.
“It’s no secret I’m a large guy — not as big as Sam (his brother, who was a lineman at Tusculum College), but still pretty large,” said the 6-foot-6 hurler, nicknamed Big Red. “But I just want to get my arm ready and be ready to go and just be me and do what I can do. The secret to sports is to do what you do best. For me, I throw fastballs, I pound the zone and that’s what I need to keep doing.”
The ultimate goal — although McClung knows it will be a long journey to get there — is for one last cup of coffee at the highest level.
“It’s kind of like when you’re leaving a gym, and you don’t want to leave on a missed shot,” he explained. “I’d like to end my career on a make. I know I’m toward the end, but I’d just like to step through a locker room one more time.
“My kids are now 2 and 4, and I’d like to be in a Major League uniform one more time and take a family picture. If that lasts for one day, one season or two or three seasons, that would be wonderful. The goal is just to continue to fight.”
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McClung’s baseball career hasn’t brought him close to home on many occasions, since the journey began with the Princeton Rays. He made a start at Baltimore’s Camden Yards while with the Rays, picking up a win on a rainy evening in front of some Greenbrier County fans, and he made trips to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with the Brewers.
But if he could make it to Pittsburgh with the Pirates, he knows it would mean a lot to his family and friends back home.
“I know Jeff Campbell was excited,” he said with a laugh, referring to the long time Greenbrier East play-by-play announcer, an avid Pirates and Steelers fan. “If, in fact, Pittsburgh happens, it would be great, because it would be close to home. The aspect of what it means to people back home is really cool. A lot of people in Greenbrier County are big Pirates fans, and it’s going to be nice to come home and say I play for the Pirates.”
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McClung’s other career is as the girls basketball coach at Osceola High School in Florida. Coming off a 16-11 season, the Warriors were picked in the Top 25 in the Tampa area by the Tampa Bay Times this season for the first time in 20 years.
“I absolutely love it,” said McClung, who was also a standout hoops player under Jerry Bradley at Greenbrier East. “I think I get paid $1,500 to do this, so it’s definitely not about the money. These girls know that I played, but they don’t get that I’m a professional athlete. It doesn’t mean anything to them, and I really enjoy coming in and just being Coach McClung.”
He had hoped to bring his team to Fairlea this season to play against the Lady Spartans, but that opportunity fell through.
“I was really disappointed with that,” he said. “I really wanted to come home and play on that court that Mr. Justice did such a good job with. It didn’t come to light, but hopefully we can work something out next year. I think it would be great.”
— E-mail: chuffman
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