BRIDGEPORT, Conn.–It was the last place you’d think to find Tracy McGrady.
On a sun-drenched field in Bridgeport, before the Bluefish’s home opener, decked out in Sugar Land Skeeters garb.
The 34-year old seven-time NBA All-Star is trying his hand at pitching, and he’s doing so in the glamour-free Independent League, where former stars Jose Offerman, Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco once saw their baseball careers die.
Why is he doing this? The better question might be, why not?
“For 16 years I had embedded in my mind that I was going to give baseball a shot,” McGrady told the MLB Network last week. “Bo Jackson was a freak. Deon Sanders was a freak. I feel like I’m a freak.”
McGrady was one of the best players in the NBA before knee problems made him a shell of his high-flying, throw-it-to-himself-off-the-backboard-dunking, 13-points-in-33-seconds-scoring self. At just 34, he’s got some time left to capitalize on his athleticism.
So, he’s busing to games, sitting out rainouts in minor league dugouts, and spending days watching wanna-be major leaguers chase their piece of the athletic glory he once achieved on the hardwood.
McGrady said he doesn’t mind the grind of it all.
“It’s not bad actually, especially when you’re doing it with guys you love being around,” he said. “No, its not the NBA, but I’m in this for the long haul and ready for whatever it brings.”
He’s not expecting to do too much at first, just to contribute any way he can.
“If I just come in this league and throw, 3-to-5 innings, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a joy to be here,” McGrady said.
McGrady is soaking up as much baseball knowledge as he can, learning from the legendary Roger Clemens, who made a few appearances with the Skeeters in 2012 and whose son Kolby is on the team.
McGrady said working with Clemens has helped his delivery. “Things started to get better for me and my confidence got better,” he said.
“I find myself watching a lot more baseball now than I do basketball. I’ve watched a lot of tall pitchers, and just watched their mechanics, their delivery and how they do things. It also helps that a lot of guys on the team give me advice.”
McGrady said he’s hitting the mid-to-upper 80’s on his fastball and throws four pitches–a curveball, slider, changeup and fastball. He’s also taking a page out of the Clemens book.
“I’m working on a split, but time will tell,” McGrady said.
He’s not quite sure what his role on the Skeeters is, as he’s only pitched in one game so far–a spring training scrimmage against Alvin Community College (he gave up one run on three hits in one inning). But he’s not too concerned about that yet.
“We haven’t really figured that out yet,” McGrady said. “It’s just a joy for me to be here, so it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just soaking it all in.”
McGrady said he lives “5 minutes” from the Skeeters’ stadium in Sugar Land, Texas. But pitching for the Skeeters isn’t just a fun vacation for him.
“I’m not playing around with it. I’m taking my craft real serious as if I was getting ready for an NBA season,” McGrady said. “I’m extremely dedicated to becoming a minor league baseball player for the Sugar Land Skeeters. I honestly can play this game.”