It’s not everyday that former NBA stars show up to play in Camden, especially to play baseball.
But Friday at Campbell’s Field, Tracy McGrady, the seven-time NBA All-Star who played 15 seasons with Toronto, Orlando, Houston, New York, Detroit and Atlanta, was in town with his new team, the Sugar Land (Tex.) Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
McGrady, who retired from pro basketball in 2013, made the club as a pitcher, although he is not yet on the team’s active roster.
The Skeeters were in town to help the Camden Riversharks celebrate their home opener at Campbell's Field for the 14th season Friday night. It was the Skeeters (3-4) who celebrated when the night was over, beating Camden (0-8) 3-1 in front of 6,396 fans.
McGrady, though not a player who is necessarily seeking a spot back in affiliated baseball like many of his peers in the Atlantic League, has lofty aspirations for himself in baseball – as a sort of role model and inspiration.
“I think a lot of minorities, or I should say African-Americans, from the grass roots of youth should realize that this is a fun sport and hopefully I can be that guy that they can relate to,” said the slender 6-foot-8 McGrady, standing in front of the visitors’ dugout underneath a bright blue late-afternoon sky dotted with cotton-candy clouds. “I don’t think African-American youth can relate to major league baseball players as far as their being globalized like a LeBron James or a Kevin Durant.”
“Who can they relate to in major league baseball and say I want to be like him and that’s a cool sport? So me being that player that played basketball that’s so globalized, hopefully I can encourage those guys to play this sport because it’s a cool sport.”
When asked if he came into this attempt at playing baseball with exactly that in mind, he said he did.
“I did, absolutely I did, because the numbers are so down in major league baseball, and baseball period, with African-Americans playing this sport, which is just a great sport to play, that hopefully I can entice some of these kids to come out and play this sport.”
A 2013 story on MLB.com said that 8.5 percent of the players on that year’s big league Opening Day rosters were African-American, down from nearly 20 percent at its apex in the mid-1970s.
McGrady also touched on a couple of other basketball topics, including Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and how the NBA has handled the situation amid allegations of racism.
“What they did was the right thing to do and it was just a situation that we don’t need to tolerate in the NBA,” McGrady said. “(NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver did the right thing and we’ll applaud him for that.”
McGrady, who came out of high school (Mt. Zion Christian Academy, in N.C.) and was chosen No. 9 overall in the 1997 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, also talked about his feelings on high schoolers entering the NBA as opposed to starting a baseball career out of high school.
“I would be hypocritical if I said guys shouldn’t be able to do it because I did it, but at the same time, a lot of people don’t hear about you know, when you were able to come out of high school, and the guys that failed and you’re not able to go back into college.
“I’m sure the baseball rules are different than they are for the guys coming out in the NBA. I’m not sure. A guy could come out of college in baseball and be drafted by a team and go back to school. I think that’s possible.
“Once you declare yourself eligible for the NBA out of high school, there is no college, so what is your alternative? The NBDL, which, it didn’t exist (when I came out) so your life is pretty much screwed and guys coming out of high school for baseball are getting a signing bonus. It has its pros and its cons, but I don’t want to see guys coming out of high school and try to go into the pros in basketball because it’s pretty difficult and more have failed than the amount of guys who have been successful.”
When asked about his most memorable NBA moment in a career that included 938 games, more than 18,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists, McGrady quickly rattled off three.
“One of them was getting drafted out of high school,” said McGrady, who is arguably the second-best player to come out of the 1997 draft behind No. 1 overall pick Tim Duncan. “Can’t beat that, 18 years old, from a small town (Auburndale) in Florida where I grew up. ... The next one’s probably scoring 13 points in (the game’s final) 35 seconds to come back and beat San Antonio*, and probably my last one is scoring 62 points, a franchise record for the Orlando Magic.”
There’s no timetable yet for McGrady to be put on the active roster, but he did appear in an exhibition game for the Skeeters, going one inning against Alvin Community College in which he allowed three hits and one run.
Regardless of how much he winds up pitching for the Skeeters, McGrady clearly hopes to have an impact in some way, playing the game that was really his first love from the age of five up through high school before his transfer from Auburndale (Fla.) High to Mt. Zion.
* Editor’s Note - On Dec. 9, 2004, McGrady’s Houston Rockets trailed 76-68 and went on to win 81-80 after he hit four 3-pointers and a free throw in the game’s final 35 seconds.
Former NBA star Tracy McGrady met with media members prior to Friday night's home opener for the Camden Riversharks. Although he has not yet been activated, McGrady made the roster, as a pitcher, for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.