TAMPA — Somewhere inside USF Baseball Stadium this past autumn, irony routinely plopped itself down amid the dozens of scouts and scribes assembled to scrutinize lanky left-handed ace Shane McClanahan.
It might have even snickered, as if it knew something all these spellbound observers didn't. Really, did any of them have a clue that this 20-year-old — the one with the radar guns, high-speed lenses and cellular devices locked in on his every pitch — once was camera shy?
"He never liked to get his picture taken," said McClanahan's mom, Lisa. "Sometimes they'd do opening day for Little League or something, he'd be hiding somewhere because he didn't want to get in any picture."
Roughly a decade later, that phobia has been sufficiently conquered, out of necessity. McClanahan, projected to be drafted earlier than any Bulls player before him, has grown accustomed to being photographed, clocked and mechanically dissected.
Instead of recoiling, he relishes in it.
"As a young freshman, he was kind of a deer-in-headlights look," said first-year Bulls coach Billy Mohl, USF's pitching coach the past three seasons. "Watching him grow as a human being over the last three years in terms of … becoming a more mature kid, I mean, that's really helped in his development on the field as well."
Less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, McClanahan takes the mound for Friday night's season opener against North Carolina armed with a mid-90s fastball, gobs of preseason hype, no fewer than three quality pitches, and the confidence to throw any of them at any point in the count.
"I feel comfortable with all of 'em," said McClanahan, who likely will lean on the fastball and changeup.
"I have a 3-2 (count), you wanna throw a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, whatever you want, I feel like I can execute the pitch and get an out. But we're trying not to get to 3-2 counts. … It's cool to strike people out, but it's cool to get a five-pitch inning."
A Baltimore native and Cal Ripken Jr. zealot (hence the reason he wears No. 8), McClanahan spent the first five years of his life in a Baltimore row house, where his mom would pitch to him from a nearby alley. When the youngest of her and James McClanahan's two kids mastered Wiffle balls, she started throwing him golf balls.
Soon, he was hitting them so hard they had to change directions for fear of knocking out windows.
"He got to where he wanted to play ball or just bat so much, I paid two 12-year-olds in the neighborhood to come and do it, 'cause that's all he wanted to do," Lisa recalled.
Raised in Cape Coral, McClanahan dabbled in just about every position — even spending time as a left-handed catcher — as a Little Leaguer. He says he didn't really evolve into a pitcher until the early stage of his high school career, when he was invited to join a Southwest Florida Baseball, Inc. (SWFL) travel team.
"Five-foot-8, 140 pounds, and he had a fast arm," SWFL founder John Cedarburg said.
"He had a really good mound presence, confident, competitive and great command of three pitches," said current SWFL coach Robbie Lawrence, pitching coach at Cape Coral High during McClanahan's freshman and senior years.
"The velocity jumps happened later, but when you can command three pitches for strikes in any count and they all have good movement, you have the ability to get out a lot of hitters."
Turned out, that velocity and frame bloomed rather late. Though he wore a size-10 1/2 shoe, McClanahan remained a "tiny guy" by his own description until growing approximately 8 inches — to more than 6 feet — between his junior and senior year.
"It was literally a summer," said McClanahan, now listed at 6-1. "I remember people asking, 'What the heck happened to you? You were 5-6 the last time I saw you.' "
With the height came the heat, and the scouts. As a Cape Coral senior, McClanahan finished 7-3 with a 1.15 ERA, striking out 91 in 55 innings. Drafted in the 26th round (779th overall) by the Mets in 2015, he opted for USF.
That fall, the elbow soreness that nagged him his entire senior year worsened. "I couldn't throw anything hard," he recalled. "Every time I did, it stung. Then one pitch, just finally felt like basically an explosion in my elbow."
After Tommy John surgery, he redshirted the 2016 season but responded strongly in '17, striking out 104 in 76 innings (4-2, 3.20 ERA). His stock has catapulted since; Baseball America has named him a first-team preseason All-American. In December, MLB.com ranked him fifth among its top '18 draft prospects.
Friday night, the stadium again could be rife with radar guns. No problem for the once-camera-shy kid. McClanahan is ready for his close-up.
"No pressure at all," he said. "We're gonna go out there and do what we're here to do — win ball games."
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
USF vs. No. 6 North Carolina
Where/when: USF Baseball Stadium, 7 p.m.
Watch: Game will be live-streamed at gousfbulls.com