Saturday, December 28, 2013

Interview Part 1: Dave McAuliffe, Good Shot

New Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Ia., in 2012. Dave McAuliffe played at the old stadium in 1990 for the Cedar Rapids Reds. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Good Shot | Part 2: His Stuff | Part 3: Other Shoe

Dave McAuliffe returned from his first practice at the University of New Haven and called his mother.

McAuliffe had always been into baseball growing up, but he had only recently got it in his head that he could play it professionally.

Now, after that first practice, he knew he could.

"I just said to her, 'If I can stick it out here for four years, I think I've got a pretty good shot at being able to play professional baseball,'" McAuliffe recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days.

Though she was supportive, McAuliffe envisioned his mother hanging up the phone, thinking he was crazy.

Four years later, it was another call to his mom, this one came from a payphone at a tryout camp. He was signing as a pro, with the Cincinnati Reds.

"I was ecstatic. I was dumfounded," McAuliffe said of the opportunity. "Jump at it? Absolutely."

From there, McAuliffe went on to a career that spanned four seasons, McAuliffe reaching as high as AA. And, while he didn't make the majors, the player who signed as an undrafted free agent did set club save records, made minor league All-Star teams and played in Australia.

Community Field in Burlington, Ia., in 2010. Dave McAuliffe played at Community Field in 1990 with the visiting Cedar Rapids Reds. (G21D Photo)
McAuliffe spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his New Jersey home. He spoke of his time growing up and playing the game in Connecticut, his relatively late dream of turning pro, and his run to the Reds organization.

McAuliffe then covered his time in the minors, from his early struggles in rookie ball, with a frank talk from one of is coaches snapping him out of it, to later success as a closer at single-A, and then finally his renewed struggles again at AA and eventual release.

He also spoke of the tryout that started his pro career, a tryout he almost missed out of frustration.

McAuliffe grew up playing the game in Stamford, Conn., crediting his father with introducing him to the game. McAuliffe played Little League on up to 16-18 Babe Ruth. He also played in high school.

Through all that, though, he never saw himself as a professional, not until his senior year in high school, at least. Even then, his record, 0-6, gave no indication that he would one day get paid to play the game.

"I believed in my ability," McAuliffe said. "For some reason, that's when I was really like, 'Wow, that's what I really want to do."

The Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., in 2011. Bridgeport is midway between where Dave McAuliffe grew up in Stamford and went to college in New Haven. (G21D Photo)
It was in 16-18 Babe Ruth that McAuliffe showed his ability. He showed it by by making his first local All-Star game. It was then that University of New Haven head coach Frank Vieira spotted McAuliffe, finally bringing McAuliffe to New Haven.

At New Haven, McAuliffe got the chance to play with several guys who later turned pro, including Cameron Drew, who had a brief stint in the majors. He described the experience as like playing for a miniature minor league team.

It was also an experience that got him to the Division II College World Series in each of his four seasons there.

During his senior year, McAuliffe started hearing from some scouts. Come draft day, though, no one called. But there was still interest.

The Cardinals had been following him and had some interest. A St. Louis scout watched McAuliffe play in the Sunday night Stamford twilight league. And he pitched well.

After the game, the scout was honest. He had a couple other guys to look at, but McAuliffe was right there.

Two days later came the tryout that landed him with the Reds - and he almost missed it.

Having pitched in front of the Cardinals scout two days earlier, his arm was killing him, McAuliffe recalled. He also wondered about his prospects, with the Cardinals still looking elsewhere.

It was his mother, he recalled, who pushed him to go.
Beehive Field in New Britain, Conn., in 2008. Dave McAuliffe grew up in Connecticut and tried out for the Reds in New Britain. (G21D Photo)
"The only thing that saved me was my friends were picking me up that day. I was a passenger," McAuliffe said. "If I had to rely on myself to get there, I probably wouldn't have gone."

The tryout was in New Britain and was run by the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau. They arrived and McAuliffe started getting into it.

He recalled seeing a pitcher in the bullpen getting attention from the scouts and getting angry himself. That attention should be on McAuliffe, he recalled thinking.

"I used it as motivation when I got up onto the mound," McAuliffe said.

And it worked. McAuliffe faced three batters, came off the field and there was Reds scout Mickey White, offering McAuliffe a contract. Soon, McAuliffe was on the phone to his mother.

"Mickey came over to me and said 'How would you like to sign a contract with the Cincinnati Reds?'" McAuliffe recalled. "I looked at Mickey and said, 'Mickey, what do you think I'm doing here today?'"

Three days later, McAuliffe was on a plane to Billings, Mont., on his way to join the rookie league Billings Mustangs.

Part 1: Good Shot | Part 2: His Stuff | Part 3: Other Shoe

Go to Part 2: Dave McAuliffe, His Stuff

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