Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall gave ace Deck McGuire a choice last summer: He could either pitch in the Cape Cod League and try out for the U.S. National team, or he could rest during the summer and do fall workouts with the rest of his teammates. Either way, at some point he needed to rest his right arm.
The choice, something Hall said he has never asked another player to make, seemed a no-brainer: McGuire could improve his draft stock by playing in one of the best amateur baseball leagues in the country and get a chance to play for his country, or he could do mind-numbing conditioning exercises on top of hundreds of drills with guys that he had already spent a lot of time with.
But McGuire surprised his coach and his teammates by taking the summer off. No Massachusetts. No Team USA. Tech came first.
Known as bit of an odd duck (Hall says his No. 1 pitcher should be left-handed to complete the baseball stereotype), McGuire's answer was well-reasoned: "I couldn't see myself sitting on the bench while they were all out working toward our goal."
That goal is the College World Series. Tech will take its first step toward Omaha with Friday's 4 p.m. season opener against Missouri State at Russ Chandler Stadium, the first game of a three-game series. McGuire will pitch for the first time since last season's 12-8 loss to Southern Miss in the Atlanta Regional. It was the worst game of his career: Two innings pitched, nine runs, four earned. Though he tried to pitch on two days' rest, it still was a blot on an otherwise stellar season in which McGuire went 11-2 with a 3.50 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 100-1/3 innings.
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"It's always there," McGuire said. "It's a big reason that I'm going into this season with such a chip on my shoulder."
That defeat is another factor that made McGuire's decision to take the summer off more curious. Even he said he wanted to get back out as soon as possible and beat somebody so he wouldn't have to wear that loss for eight months.
"Personally, I want to prove I'm better," McGuire said. "As a team we want to prove we're better."
Batterymate Cole Leonida, who also is McGuire's roommate, said that determination was evident during the fall workouts. There are a lot of expectations for this season's team, which might be the deepest and most talented since the Nomar Garciaparra-Jason Varitek squad in 1994. Leonida said watching McGuire forgo the summer plans and instead work out inspired the players.
"It really is motivational to try to take your game to his level," Leonida said. "There's not a lot of guys around at his level. He turned down the Cape Cod, the USA. It was all for us. It really means a lot to the team."
Plus, McGuire has pitched 178-1/3 innings the past two seasons. While he said he was a bit tired physically after the season, it wasn't anything a couple of weeks off wouldn't have fixed. But he understood why he shouldn't do the summer and the fall. And he had no problem making a decision.
"I think the fall does a lot in building team camaraderie," McGuire said. "I may not have been the best in the fall. I was a little rusty coming back, but I think I led by example. My struggles may even showed them how to deal with adversity a little bit."
McGuire needs another good season. He says he doesn't care about personal accolades. All he wants is a ring. But he's eligible to be selected in June's Major League Baseball draft. That's the biggest reason that Hall and Leonida said they were surprised that McGuire took the summer off.
With a fastball in the mid-90s, as well as three other pitches, McGuire is pegged as a first-round pick by most magazines. Playing in the Cape Cod League or for Team USA might have solidified his status as one of the best prospects in the nation. While he's still considered one of the top pitchers in the nation, some draft analysts question if McGuire can handle himself in big games, presumably thinking about the loss to Southern Miss.
Much like his answer to why he took the summer off, McGuire responds quickly. Even though he's smiling, it's easy to tell he's serious.
"I sure I hope get a chance to prove myself this year."