By Brett Bosley
Mac McCarty’s mental approach to pitching is, like his delivery, unorthodox.
“Energetic, yet focused. Out of control, but calculated. A fighter’s mentality,” he says.
The junior right-hander takes his role on the VCU Baseball team seriously, and powered by that mantra, the transfer from Pierce Community College has burst onto the scene with the Rams.
The Port Orchard, Wash. native has been a revelation this spring as VCU’s closer and has been among the NCAA leaders in saves for most of the season. His 14 saves this year currently rank second nationally and are already second-most in school single-season history.
McCarty’s demeanor on the mound, paired with his submarine delivery, often confuses opposing hitters, as well as fans.
“I like to be silly on the mound, and I also like to play mind games,” says McCarty. “I can bring a lot of energy and it can seem out of control at times, but it’s all calculated. I just think that if you can get a batter to start focusing on, ‘Oh, why is doing that, why did he do this’ instead of, ‘Alright I need to hit this ball right back at his forehead,’ you are winning.”
As defined in baseball, a submarine pitch is “one in which the ball is released often just before the ground, but not underhanded, with the torso bent at a right angle and shoulders tilted so severely that they rotate around a nearly horizontal axis.” An unnatural motion, many coaches are reluctant to teach players to throw submarine.
However, McCarty has embraced the motion since he was nine years old. After being unsuccessful on the mound at a young age, his father Clint made a suggestion.
“My dad said, ‘Hey, there is a guy I used to watch named Dan Quisenberry, and you should try throwing like him. Throw submarine.’ So we went to this little league field and did it.”
After some early struggles learning how to pitch using the motion, McCarty never waivered in his determination to be successful. By the age of 14, McCarty became one of the best pitchers in his area. While his success continued into high school, there were always doubters.
“Yeah, it was funny. We had the (Seattle) Mariners come in and work with us on one of the select teams I was on when I was 12. One of the pitching coaches was like, ‘Hey, you probably shouldn’t be throwing submarine yet. That’s something you do when your older,’’ McCarty recalled. “It was just kind of funny that a 12-year-old kid is throwing submarine. Just little things like that. People will just talk a little something before the game, but after they actually watch me in a game they are fine.”
McCarty is not conventional when it comes to his throwing motion, and no two submariners are alike. He works from his legs, and keeps his front side closed, allowing for more power and run on his fastball.
“Some people are slightly higher, or some people scrape the ground with their knuckles but start high, and it all creates all these slight differences in mechanics,” he said. “You’ll see side-armers talk to each other and ask each other how they do things and everyone is completely different. But my big thing is just keeping my front side closed.”
Growing up in Port Orchard, McCarty was originally home schooled. He was still able to play high school baseball for South Kitsat, where he won a state championship is senior year. He then became a recruit of the Washington State Cougars. McCarty would leave after one semester, to then play for Pierce Community College, also in Washington. While playing for the Raiders, he came across former VCU pitcher and member of the 2015 Super Regional squad, JoJo Howie.
“JoJo actually texted me and got me in contact with (VCU) because he’s actually coaching (in Washington) right now. Then we basically went from there. I remember I was working on a deck and I got a call from Virginia, and I was like, ‘I wonder who this is’, and it was Coach Elbin, as high energy as can be.”
McCarty says that high-energy approach and VCU’s tradition of success made it an easy sell.
“Honestly, you look at VCU’s whole body of work, and it’s pretty impressive. They are winning over 35 games a year, and that’s basically every JUCO kid’s nightmare where they go to a school that did well then goes Division I and can’t win games. Here, I’m winning games, and it’s a blast,” he said.
McCarty wasn’t recruited to VCU to the Rams’ closer, but says it was probably inevitable he’d move to the bullpen at some point in his career. Although he was mostly a starting pitcher through high school and junior college, McCarty says it wasn’t a big adjustment for him.
McCarty is following directly in the footsteps of the two best closers in VCU history in Daniel Concepcion and Sam Donko, who each set the program’s saves record during their careers. Donko, who was also a junior college transfer, currently owns the VCU career mark with 36. While the subject fascinates McCarty, he says he won’t dwell on it.
“Do I want to be number one in saves? Yeah sure. I want to set it and have nobody beat it if I’m being honest,” McCarty, who is nearing Donko’s single-season mark of 20 saves, admitted. “But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I want to tell my kids and grand kids stories about my teammates and cool things we did in games. I’m not going to tell them I’m the saves leader. I have a nephew who doesn’t care about any of that stuff. He just wants to hear funny stories.”
McCarty’s approach also comes from his interests off the field. A three-sport athlete in high school, he also fell in love with both weightlifting and mixed martial arts at a younger age. He says both of those things make him a better pitcher.
“My mom got me into weight lifting when I was pretty young, and I really enjoyed that. So I kind of had to pick, it was either weightlifting in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. It ended up being doing both weight lifting and baseball throughout the year, so that’s what I enjoy now,” he said.
Both hobbies have helped McCarty create a sense of discipline and confidence, especially from watching his favorite UFC fighter, Georges St-Pierre. It’s that mentality that he takes to the mound to compete, to confuse, and to win.
“I know the mentality they have to go under, and I’m not sure I can quite get to that. I try to though. I try to think, ‘Ok, this is a fight. I’m just trying to be better than you standing on this mound.’ It’s not just trying to get an out here, I’m going to be better than you this pitch, and the next one, and the next one. That’s how fighting goes. In the end, it’s all out there but it’s just really calculated, and that’s where I find those similarities.”
Putting all of that together, he says, allows him to prepare for each game with his lengthy warmup, all starting in the sixth inning getting his energy up, and his focus locked in.
“Once I get the call, whether it’s in the seventh, eighth, or ninth, I’m ready to go. I also have so much stuff written in my cap. I watch all these super hero shows and there’s all sorts of saying and stuff. They all lock me in and I just think that I can bring some energy to the game once I get in there. My guys behind me have all been competing for eight innings, and they haven’t been sitting around with coats on and stuff. They’ve been playing their hearts out, so when the ninth comes and I come in, I want to help give those guys a boost of energy so we can finish the game strong.”