Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Interview Part 3: Steve McCarthy, Could Do

The former Riverview Park in Clinton, Iowa. Steve McCarthy pitched at Riverview with Cedar Rapids from 1989 to 1991. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: All Clicked | Part 2: Really Proud
Part 3: Could Do | Part 4: Amazing Experiences

Steve McCarthy got called into the game and he could hardly keep himself still.

This was spring 1991 and he'd been called over to major league camp for the day to. Not only was he there with the major league Reds - the reigning World Champions - but McCarthy was actually getting into the game.

"I would have to say I was the most nervous I've been pitching in a game right there," McCarthy recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "When I stepped on the mound, my leg was shaking and I was like 'Oh my gosh, everybody can see this.'"

McCarthy was starting his fifth professional season that year. He hadn't pitched higher than single-A during the season. Now, though, the left-hander was facing major league batters - a string of Philadelphia Phillie left-handed veterans, Von Hayes, Darren Daulton and John Morris.

And, he recalled, set them down in order: A pop-up and two grounders.

"I was throwing as hard as I think I probably have ever thrown," McCarthy recalled. "I don't know what the readings were, but I was so juiced up."

McCarthy went on to make AA Chattanooga later that year. It was the highest he'd get with the Reds and that season turned out to be his last with on-field playing time.

Walking off the field after that inning, McCarthy recalled feeling good about his performance.
A Clinton Lumberking delivers to the plate at New Veteran's Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids. Steve McCarthy pitched at Old Veterans Memorial Stadium from 1989 to 1991. (Greatest 21 Days)
"I felt good. I felt good," McCarthy said. I felt like I got a chance to show what I could do and I did it."

McCarthy has gone on to a successful post-playing career. He now runs a small computer hardware consulting business. He took time out of his family's vacation on Cape Cod recently to speak with The Greatest 21 Days about his career.

McCarthy's career included two big injuries. Both required surgery. His first came in 1988 when he tore cartilage in his throwing shoulder. He had surgery after that season and made it back to start 1989. He also made it back healthy.

His health showed in his stats. In 30 relief outings at single-A Cedar Rapids, McCarthy turned in a 1.51 ERA and picked up five wins.

"I felt strong," McCarthy said of his time in 1989. "I had done a lot of that little arm work. My muscles came back pretty strong and I was throwing hard. My slider was really good."

Despite his success in 1989, McCarthy returned there to start 1990. In 12 innings there, he gave up a single earned run. He then was moved to single-A Charleston, W.V., and was made the team's closer. He converted 10 save chances in a row, but injury hit again.

This time it was bone spurs in his elbow. McCarthy wondered if it was the result of subtle changes in his motion coming back from his 1988 injury. The new injury meant he couldn't extend his arm properly. He couldn't get the ball to do what he needed it to do. Surgery ended that season.

"If you look at my stats, whenever I was healthy I pitched well," McCarthy said. "It was black and white."
New Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids in 2012. (Greatest 21 Days)
That he didn't make AA Chattanooga to start that season, McCarthy said was disappointing. The goal, he said, was to not let that disappointment show on the field.

"You probably go out have a few beers with the guys when you get there the first week and bitch about it and you've got to move on," McCarthy said, "because I know if I had dwelled on it, I wouldn't have performed as well.

"You're like "Ok, now I have to make them realize they made a bad decision by putting me here and I did. I went out and showed them that they made a bad decision," McCarthy said.

That next spring, in 1991, McCarthy tried to show the Reds he could hold his own in that one appearance with the major league club.

Teams, McCarthy recalled, often grabbed a couple of the minor league guys to fill out spring rosters for the day. On this day, McCarthy was one of the ones picked. He also knew there was no guarantee of getting into the game.

It got to the eighth inning and the three Phillies lefties were coming up. All of a sudden Reds bullpen coach Larry Rothschild beckoned McCarthy to get loose.

Soon he was told he was going in.

"I was like 'Wow, this is what I've been working for. I'm going to get to show (Reds manager) Lou Piniella  right now what I can do.'"
Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, in 2010. Steve McCarthy pitched at Community with the Cedar Rapids Reds from 1989 to 1991. (Greatest 21 Days)
McCarthy recalled having no real knowledge about the guys he'd be facing other than they were seasoned major league veterans. His strategy was to pitch them like any lefty.

A single-A pitcher the year before, McCarthy himself was an unknown, even to his catcher for the day. McCarthy recalled his catcher meeting him on the mound and asking what McCarthy threw.

McCarthy responded he threw a fastball and a slider. Prompted for his best pitch, McCarthy responded slider.  With acquaintances made, McCarthy's catcher called for the slider.

"I throw it so unbelievably hard that it backs up on me and it's spinning like this," McCarthy recalled gesturing. "It looks like a watermelon."

McCarthy got away with it. Hayes fouled it back. He recalled no sliders being called after that. He threw fastballs the rest of the way and he set the Phillies down in order.

"The guys were very complimentary," McCarthy recalled afterward. "The whole 'Hey, great job. Hopefully we'll see you in Cincinnati soon' type of thing."

McCarthy went on to a season that saw time with three different clubs, two of them he'd already played at, Cedar Rapids and Charleston. He also got his first time at AA Chattanooga. A year after that spring outing, his baseball career neared its end. (Go to Part 4)

Part 1: All Clicked | Part 2: Really Proud
Part 3: Could Do | Part 4: Amazing Experiences

Go to Part 4: Steve McCarthy, Amazing Experiences

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