On the mound to redemption
Only now, there's nowhere to go. McClung must pitch when called upon, in any scenario.
Says Hem, "Some guys might be higher priority based on their prospect status, but when you're in AAA, and you're literally one step away from the major leagues, most of the roster-filler guys have weeded themselves out by now."
Still, the odds are stacked against veterans in the minors. The team flew from Omaha to Iowa, but after the series in Des Moines, they will take a 13-hour bus ride back to Nashville, then be at the ballpark 10 hours later. Today, McClung walks with me over to Principal Park at about 3 p.m. In the hotel lobby before we leave, a family notices him, and thanks him for being a Brewer. He says this still happens with some regularity, but not as often as it used to.
Baseball, he says, is really just a business.
"It's not like Little League," says McClung, walking into the stadium. "As a child, you care about your teammates, you become buddies. Here, you want it to be that way. You're conditioned as a kid to be all about the team, but the business side of it is if you pitch poorly, get sent down or released, playing a kid's game is taken away from you."
After receiving heat treatment to his shoulder in the trainer's room, McClung sits in the cramped clubhouse with his right arm wrapped in bandages. The activities are the same, but this locker room looks nothing like the one in Miller Park. Some players watch TV or play cards, while others read magazines or books on their iPads. I walk into the coaches' locker room for a chat with pitching coach Fred Dabney and skipper Guerrero. They're upbeat even though the team is mired in a slump.
"(Seth is) only 31 years old, and certain guys can pitch into their 40s," says Dabney, pulling on his warmup gear. "The good thing about Seth is that his arm works very well. As for his pitchability, he's working on some things mechanically that he needs to do, as opposed to when he was up there before, where he 'outstuffed' guys probably a little more than he can now."
I re-introduce myself to Guerrero, who I last met in the Dominican Republic in 2005 while doing a feature on then Brewers prospect, Nelson Cruz.
He doesn't remember me, of course, but about McClung, he says, "His attitude is good. He works hard ... but what he did in the past is what he did in the past. Now is today, and things that he did back then he just can't do now. He realizes that – and (is) constantly understanding what he needs to do, delivery-wise, to have success."
"His arm works fine, and if he wants to get back to the big leagues, he'll (have to) sort out some stuff mechanically," says Guererro. "The main thing is execution of pitches, getting in good work habits and going from there."
At 4:20 p.m., the Sounds' pitching staff assembles in right field.
Peralta, who is on the Brewers' 40-man roster (McClung is not), throws his bullpen session while Dabney and his teammates look on. The trainer leads the group in stretching exercises in English and Spanish, and McClung finally picks up a baseball. I realize that, even though I've stayed in contact with him since I first wrote a feature article on Big Red in '09, this was the first time in three years I've seen McClung throw a pitch.
It's not, however, the first time that 35-year-old veteran catcher Paul Phillips has seen McClung in action. "He has to basically not worry about who's on his team, and go out there and do what he's supposed to do," says Phillips, who has played ball in the majors and minors for 15 years.
"Seth can only do his job. He can't do my job for me or anyone else's job. The way you have to look at it is that someone feels like you can help them in their organization or they wouldn't have chosen you to be on their team. Things change throughout the year, good or bad. As a player, every day you go out and try to get better. Some days you do, some days you don't, but the focus has to be that you are making that progression. If you stop trying, you are going to be out of the game."
McClung and Dabney play catch, gradually moving farther away from each other, until the coach squats down and McClung starts alternating between fastballs and breaking balls. After a time, the position players come out for stretching and batting practice, while the pitchers change back into street clothes.
At least one pitcher, however, takes BP along side the hitters. Rogers, the Brewers first-round draft pick in 2004, is tearing the cover off the ball, looking, well, not like a pitcher. When he's done, I ask him about McClung.
"I think it's pretty awesome – Seth was one of the first guys I met (on the Brewers). He was in the big leagues with us, doing his thing. I'll tell you what: he was the same guy then that he is now, which is pretty cool. He treated me the exact same when I was a 19-year-old kid as he does now. I thought it was pretty awesome. It's been cool to get to know him on a personal level and pick his brain," says Rogers.
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Nice article Hope he makes it back, I think he will because the Brewers pen isn't all that great.
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