Tracy McGrady's transformation from seven-time NBA All-Star to (semi) professional baseball player is complete. Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti confirmed that McGrady made the team's opening-day roster as a relief pitcher following a tryout period during spring training.
"Tracy is on the team," Gaetti told Mark Berman of Fox 26 Sports. "He's just done what needed to be done since the idea came about. He showed enough progress. He showed enough ability and we're going to see where this goes."
McGrady was invited to Skeeters training camp in March after working out behind the scenes with the club for much of the early part of the year. The 34-year-old righty made his debut in spring training against Alvin Community College last week, giving up one run on three hits in one inning pitched.
While McGrady is still in the infancy of coordinating himself on the mound, Gaetti told Berman he sees potential despite the former NBA leading scorer's age.
"There's so many unique things about it," Gaetti said. "It doesn't matter how hard you throw. You got deception. You got velocity. You got location. You got stuff."
Sugar Land, which plays in the Atlantic League (an independent league not associated with Major League Baseball), is no stranger to noteworthy signings. Roger Clemens made a comeback with the Skeeters in 2012 at age 50. Viewed by many as a mere publicity stunt, Clemens was solid enough in his couple outings to at least get the engines revving about a possible MLB comeback.
In fact, Clemens has his own ties to McGrady's run at a baseball career. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner has been helping McGrady with pitching mechanics and other basics of mound work to get him acclimated to the sport. McGrady is said to have touched 90 miles per hour with his fastball.
Tracy McGrady throws harder than both CC Sabathia and Kyle Farnsworth— Jorge Arangure (@jorgearangure) April 3, 2014
"He’s not there yet," Clemens told the Houston Chronicle's Jose de Jesus Ortiz in February. "(He) needs more time and needs to react to live hitters and balls coming back (toward) him."
A one-game sample against a community college during spring training gives us little to work with in knowing whether McGrady is a viable option. Minor league teams, particularly independents, are not immune to gimmick signings or promotions in order to boost attendance. McGrady seems to be taking the process seriously by all accounts, but we'd be remiss to assume that someone who lacks McGrady's fame would be given the same chance at age 34.
That also creates an interesting clubhouse dynamic. An overwhelming majority of these players are young guys looking for one last shot at MLB glory—not someone with more than $100 million in career earnings likely sitting in his bank account.
McGrady, who retired from the NBA after a short-lived run with the Spurs last season, averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game across his 15-year career. He made seven All-NBA teams and led the league in scoring twice before chronic knee injuries cut his prime short. Because of the injuries—and lack of playoff success—McGrady is more of a fringe contender than lock to make the Hall of Fame.
It's safe to say we can eschew any possibility of Cooperstown to come knocking. If McGrady is actually willing to put in the work to give this a go, and Gaetti's complimentary stance is more than coachspeak, having him around can't possibly hurt. The publicity gained over the signing will probably outweigh the actual contribution, sure.
But in a world where independent ballclubs have to scrape every last dime to stay afloat, is that really such a bad thing?
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