By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Seth McClung was getting his daughters Madison and Fallon inside and ready for their baths when his phone rang. He’s said before that he enjoys the role of “daddy day care.”
It appears he will have more time for that position.
When McClung, a Greenbrier East alumnus, was released last month by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he knew what it most likely meant. The 6-foot-6 flamethrower has likely delivered his last pitch as a professional.
“It’s up to God, really,” McClung said in a phone interview. “If it’s up to me, I have. And I am perfectly fine with that.”
Maybe tears have been shed in a private setting, but McClung has the tone and demeanor of someone who is content that his baseball career has come to an end. From the time he spoke his first word — “ball” — until now, about 33 years later, sports have been a prevalent part of his life.
Basketball was his first love, and he lettered in seven sports at Greenbrier East, but McClung will always be defined by baseball. He made Fairlea a destination spot for MLB scouts during his career with the Spartans, one that ended in 1999 with an All-America selection and, ultimately, a fifth-round selection by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the first-year players draft.
His professional career started two weeks later in the Mountain State, with Princeton of the rookie level Appalachian League.
He made his big league debut as a reliever against the Baltimore Orioles on opening day in 2003. He was the pitcher of record when the Rays won on a walkoff.
He had a 4-0 record — tied for the most victories in the American League for a rookie — when he blew out his elbow against the Texas Rangers. He had Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season and all of 2004.
McClung came back in 2005, but his relationship with the Rays soured and he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers before the deadline in 2007. He attained a cult following there, and was part of the Brewers’ 2008 NL wild-card team. He made one relief appearance in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Milwaukee did not tender him a contract, and he was released in 2009.
He pitched in the minors with the Rangers and Cubs, and spent parts of last year in Mexico and Taiwan. He signed a minor league deal with the Pirates in November and pitched well in spring training, but was released March 22.
“They didn’t have a spot for me,” McClung said. “They met with me and gave me the option of releasing me now or letting me finish out the spring. And I just said, ‘Let’s just do it.’”
McClung finished with a lifetime record of 26-34 and a 5.46 earned run average.
Coaching has also been a big part of McClung’s life. He was once a volunteer women’s basketball assistant at the University of Tampa — whose mascot, ironically, is Spartans — and was the head coach at Pinellas Park and Osceola high schools in Florida. But he “ran into some brick walls” at Osceola and resigned in March.
All of a sudden, things didn’t look so good. But an unexpected opportunity came up when he was approached about becoming the new head baseball coach at Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg.
He will officially take over after the season for outgoing coach Brian Ibs. McClung will coach the varsity team, and Keswick also has a JV program as well as middle and elementary school teams.
“A lot of tough decisions were made easy by this opportunity,” McClung said. “This is the path God chose for me.”
Coaching baseball was always on McClung’s radar, just not at the high school level.
“I had looked into being a college head coach and making a living out of it,” he said.
Keswick is a small school, with an enrollment of about 150. McClung harbors no hopes of turning the team into a national powerhouse, but does expect the team to have fun.
Baseball fans in southern West Virginia will have the chance to catch up with McClung this summer. Florida rules provide the opportunity for players and coaches from a high school team to work together after the season, as long as they play under a completely different name.
McClung plans to bring his team to the Mountain State in June and will play summer teams from Woodrow Wilson, Independence and Oak Hill, among others. He also wants to take his team to play in the annual Hillbilly Hardball Classic in Elkins.
“I told them we are going to do it because, one, it’s my hometown and I want to,” McClung said, laughing, “and two, I want them to go fishing and see Lost World Caverns. There’s so much for them to see.”
At 33, McClung has already seen a lot in his young life. Now, as he embarks on a new chapter, he knows everything is good. His wife, Stephanie, is a regional finance director for a key Florida campaign race, and he will get to spend more time with Madison and Fallon.
But he will never forget his career as a baseball player, or the way it ended.
“My last pitch was a fastball, 93, outer half. Looking. Strike three,” he said. “I will always remember that.”
— E-mail: gfauber
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