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Seth McClung pursues a long-shot baseball comeback

BRADENTON — Seth McClung jokes that players in the Pirates' minor-league complex called him "coach" this spring.

That's fairly true, as the former Rays right-hander has spent the past four seasons coaching high school girls basketball at Pinellas Park and Osceola. McClung, 33, said he actually identifies himself more as a basketball coach now than he does a baseball player, having not appeared in the majors since 2009.

But like on the basketball court, McClung wants to finish his baseball career with a buzzer-beater. It's is a long shot, with McClung released Wednesday by the Pirates, who brought him to camp on a minor-league deal. He hopes to land with another team, encouraged by how he performed this spring after he struck out the side against the Rays in his only big-league exhibition and scattered two hits in two minor-league games. Pitching for paychecks in Taiwan and Mexico last year reinvigorated his love for the game and a belief he can still play.

And McClung, used to being "daddy day care" for his daughters Madison, 4, and Fallon, 2, has one last wish: that they see him pitch in the big leagues.

"If it's over, it's over, I'm okay," McClung said. "I wanted to give it one more go. My ultimate goal was to make it to the major leagues and have my picture taken with my kids. … But I'm 33 years old. I understand there's an end to this."

•••

McClung began his career in Tampa Bay, having been drafted by the then-Devil Rays in the fifth round in 1999.

He was traded to Milwaukee in July 2007 for Grant Balfour, pitched parts of three seasons for the Brewers and finished his career 26-34 with a 5.46 ERA in 177 appearances. He pitched for three Triple-A teams from 2011-12.

McClung said he has grown since his Devil Rays days. He married longtime girlfriend Stephanie three years ago, and he watches their daughters often while his wife works as assistant finance director for the Charlie Crist gubernatorial campaign. "It's her time to shine," he said.

•••

After an interesting year split between Mexico and Taiwan, McClung sought out MLB general managers and scouts last fall via LinkedIn, asking if they would give him a chance.

In November, Pirates director of player personnel Tyrone Brooks offered an opportunity. Whether McClung gets another one could go a long way in a promise he made to his mother. Marky McClung has liver cirrhosis but is reticent about going through the painstaking transplant process. Mother and son made a deal: If he gets back to the majors, she'll get on the transplant list.

"I'm not willing to give up," McClung said. "And I don't want her to give up either."

Marky, who lives on a West Virginia farm, was in town a few weeks ago, bringing Madison and Fallon to watch their dad pitch in Dunedin against the Jays. Marky admits she's on "borrowed time" and wanted to see her granddaughters once more.

After the game, McClung brought his daughters out on the field and into the dugout. They took photos, him in his Pirates uniform, a moment McClung said "meant the world to me."

McClung hopes the next family portrait is in a major-league stadium, and he is willing to start in Class A if he has to. He said Rays manager Joe Maddon encouraged him to keep trying.

"How many males in this country or around the world can say the same thing — the big leagues, a girls basketball coach, come back and possibly pitch in the big leagues?" Maddon said. "That's pretty good stuff."

Marky smiled: "It'd be a miracle. But it can happen."

Seth McClung pursues a long-shot baseball comeback 03/19/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 9:38pm]
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