In what likely was to be his final summer as an amateur athlete, Deck McGuire made a stunning decision. He chose to pass on the beauty contests.
He could have played on the U.S. national team. He could have played in the Cape Cod League, a haven for college stars looking to strut across the stage for scouts in a final amateur summer audition before the next draft, just like a swimsuit competition.
McGuire stayed in Atlanta. Slept late. Worked out. Goofed off with friends. Sat by the pool.
“There are a lot of guys in his situation who are trying to set themselves up for the draft the next year,” Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall said Thursday. “A guy can go up there to Cape Cod and be successful and he can stink in college the next year, but he’ll be drafted based on what [scouts] saw in the summer. That says a lot about Deck McGuire.”
Georgia Tech opens play in the NCAA Atlanta Regional Friday night against Mercer. This is as good a team as coach Danny Hall has had in a while, a chance to get back to the College World Series. McGuire is a big reason for that. He is 8-4 and ranks No. 1 in the ACC in strikeouts (112) and innings pitched (104 2/3) and No. 2 in earned run average (3.01) and opponents’ batting average (.223).
But ask McGuire what sticks with him most going into this NCAA postseason and he’ll refer you to a game one year ago this week. It was a 12-8 loss to Southern Miss that knocked the Jackets out of their home regional. McGuire, then a sophomore, started on two days rest. He imploded shortly thereafter.
The second inning was a Wes Craven movie: nine runs.
“Pretty rough,” he said. “I felt like I had decent stuff. They just hit everything I threw to home plate.”
Most college athletes in McGuire’s position would let go of this pretty quickly. The draft is next week, he could be a top 10 selection and a potential $2 million signing is in his personal on-deck circle. But McGuire was less concerned last summer about impressing scouts and potentially improving his draft stock than he was about making amends and coming back strong for Tech.
“He wasn’t going to let pro baseball or advisers talk him into doing something he didn’t feel comfortable doing,” Hall said. “That says something about Deck. You can say, ‘Well, how much was he really going to improve his stock in the Cape Cod League?’ But most guys’ egos are going to tell them to go up to there and pitch.”
Talking about the draft makes McGuire uncomfortable. He says his focus is on the Jackets. A lot of college athletes say things like that, but with him you actually believe it. Taking the summer off was about resting his arm, maturing and winning.
Hard to believe, this is somebody who wasn’t even drafted out of high school.
“It’s all still kind of surreal,” he said of major league projections.
“My mentality,” he said. “I think I had some confidence issues. I learned how to attack hitters more and work off my fastball rather than just relying on my breaking stuff. When I found my comfort zone, that’s what really jumped me from being undrafted to this.”
He’s still a big, goofy kid (6-6, 223 pounds), a former high school quarterback who probably never really got serious about baseball until that sport was over. Even Hall says he never envisioned McGuire getting this good.
“I thought he would be a nice player to have and he’d get better,” he said.
Hall set up his rotation for McGuire to pitch Saturday, not the opener, something the player didn’t have a problem with.
“We’ve come really close the last couple of years, but our pitching has let us down, and I’m a big part of that,” he said. “This year I kind of came in with a chip on my shoulder.”
Rest can’t get rid of that.