Somewhere in Middle America, a bit of peace can still be found on a minor league baseball diamond.
You don't have to deal with price gouging in concessions, the world still feels small and constricted, and you can't seem to argue with a $5 funnel cake. Matter of fact, never argue when the universe gifts you a $5 funnel cake.
And somewhere, separated from a basketball court, from screaming fans and the high amounts of pressure to live up to his own God-given talents, Tracy McGrady -- all 6 foot and 8 inches of spindly humanity -- found himself, too.
Saturday, the former (and it sounds like a giant Stump The Schwab trivia answer) Raptor, Magic, Rocket, Knick, Piston, Hawk and Spur took the mound in Sugar Land for the Skeeters, a minor league outfit in the Atlantic League. The Skeeters aren't completely terrible; they still have a bit of former Major League talent in Delwyn Young, but Saturday night they still had the kind of emotion redolent of Roger Clemens striking people out and giving us faint ideas of his return to the majors. There's some irony in that, but we'll brush upon it in a bit.
McGrady on this night wasn't quite great. He threw 35 pitches, 18 of which went for strikes and only lasted 1 2/3rd innings. No strikeouts, two walks and plenty of complimentary applause from the fans who ventured their way to Constellation Park at the midpoint of Highway 6 and 90.
He was rocked for a home run and gave up another hit before he was pulled. A security guard remarked for all to hear, "Tracy did good. Now we can release him and get a real pitcher."
Felt like 2010 all over again hearing that.
For whatever rap McGrady gets, whether it is that of former Rockets head coach and current ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy calling him "a basketball natural" who only adhered to 1,000 of Malcolm Gladwell's well established "10,000 Hours" theory or that of a choker, most of it simply boils down to our propensity to notice greatness - and expect greatness to succeed at whatever level present.
McGrady probably hadn't stepped foot on a pitching mound since he was at Mount Zion Christian Academy, before someone got into his ear and wormed inward with the truth that he should stick to basketball, and it showed. His pitches peaked at near 85-86 miles an hour in velocity, a human marvel considering how much torque you think still exists in an almost 35-year old pitching arm that lay dormant for nearly two decades.
It went from novelty to actuality. McGrady pitched against pros and came away with maybe the most satisfying loss of his life.
Following his performance, McGrady gave the requisite sound bytes of a pitcher who sounded like he was returning from rehabbing an injury: clubhouse love, blessing from God to wake up and pitch, love of the game. There's also a hint of glowing solace with him, his face still somewhat as boyish as it was when he first donned purple and created aerial shows with his cousin Vince Carter up north.
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"If this is the only time I pitch, it's a gratifying feeling," he said. Think about it. Thanks to sheer God given athleticism that makes him seem more like a comic book superhero (or third tier Bo Jackson), McGrady got to achieve something he ditched for an easier and lucrative path. He got to pick the mind of Roger Clemens who was his guru and acknowledged that he was somewhat of a natural at baseball too.
The Skeeters haven't announced any further appearances for McGrady even if his visage appears plastered all over Constellation Park and in the gift shop where famous name and number appears on plenty of T-shirts and jerseys. Some fans even wore their old McGrady jerseys to celebrate the occasion. In terms of strange moments and feats, McGrady's performance felt like an afterthought. People began buzzing once the Skeeters fought to overcome the early 3-0 deficit only to lose by two runs, 5-3. Young hit a home run, the fans were given plenty of opportunity to hold on and cheer.
For at least a night, a small crowd in the middle of Sugar Land got to cheer and be proud of an adoptive son. You didn't rue his playoff letdowns even if the press guide even acknowledged his unreal 13 points in 35 second affair against the Spurs in 2004 (his signature basketball moment), you just basked in the fact that an athletic marvel got to make you marvel once again, even if it was only a glimpse.
McGrady might ride the bus in the Atlantic League, but he's never seemed happier about just being "another" guy.