The Wolfpacker

May 2017 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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62 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER J osh McLain found what he believes is his life's calling in a baseball stadium in Cooper- stown, N.Y., when he was just 12 years old. What happened, however, wasn't on the field. McLain and his teammates were at the birthplace of baseball to compete for a youth league national championship and walking along the concourse when a young fan in a wheelchair, eager to make a con- nection with the players, got his attention. The autistic fan couldn't communicate ver- bally with McLain, but when he parked his wheelchair right in front of McLain, they made an indelible connection. There was something life-altering about t h a t m o m e n t f o r McLain. He spent some time with the young fan, and came home with a new ambition: to become a special education teacher. E v e r y b a s e b a l l player, of course, has big-league dreams at the age of 12, but McLain has never re- ally wavered from the goal he discovered that day. Currently, the Wolfpack junior center fielder is studying social work with hopes of one day pursuing a master's degree in special education. "Everything I've done since I was 12 has reassured me that this is what I want to do," McLain said. "Everyone has always told me that it is something that takes a lot of patience, and I understand that. "It's still something I want to do." McLain enjoys spending time with a teammate's sibling with Down's Syn- drome. He's the first to sign up for the team's volunteer activities with the Miracle League of Raleigh. He's sought counsel from family friends who are special educa- tion teachers. "It's a calling, I guess," McLain said. For now, however, McLain is biding his time as the Wolfpack's second-leading hit- ter, batting .346 and slugging .523 through 33 games as of April 10. The converted shortstop has been a consistently excellent center fielder, known for his ability to roam the wide alleys at Doak Field at Dail Park and making difficult plays look routine. What happened since last season, his first taking over as the Wolfpack's center fielder from departed senior Jake Fincher? McLain stopped playing baseball and took up fishing. McLain was off to an outstanding start in center field as a sophomore, until he suf- fered a broken bone in his hand at Georgia Tech. The injury sidelined him for a week and derailed his plans to play in the Cape Cod Summer League while rehabilitating the fourth metatarsal of his right hand. Still, playing at about 80 percent the lat- ter half of the season, McLain managed to bat .300, score 41 runs and hit 19 doubles, two triples and four home runs. Instead of going to the Cape, he went to the beach, going with his family to Cherry Grove, S.C., for vacation and fishing trips. With Avent's full blessing, McLain didn't swing a bat until he returned to school in the fall, giving his hand three months to completely mend. "We probably spent 21 total days floun- der fishing in the inlet down there," McLain said. "I was used to having a bat in my hand all the time, but all I had last summer was a fishing rod." The Hiddenite, N.C., native with a rela- tively slight 6-0, 165-pound frame never played any sport other than baseball. He never thought he would be a top college prospect until he hit a growth spurt in high school. Though he wasn't an NC State fan growing up, he had a tight connection to the Wolfpack through family friend Matt Payne, an outfielder/pitcher who was a key player on the NC State's 2008 NCAA Ra- leigh Regional championship team. McLain and his family came to see Payne play for the Wolfpack multiple times, and Payne was an assistant coach for McLain's middle school baseball team before becoming a college assistant coach. McLain was an accomplished shortstop when he arrived in Raleigh, but he was quickly moved to center field to serve a one-year apprenticeship under Fincher. "He kind of took me under his wing," McLain said. "I had never played anything other than shortstop my entire life, so it was all new to me. Now I like the outfield way better than the infield, even though I feel like I am still learning." McLain has made his learning curve look easy. He gets quick and accurate jumps on fly balls and rarely puts himself in position to have to dive for out-of-reach plays. "I just love Josh McLain," head coach Elliott Avent said. "He gets the best jump on fly balls that anyone can get. He's been one of the most consistent center fielders we have ever had, and that says a lot when you consider guys like Matt Camp, Kyle Wilson, Brett Williams and Jake Fincher. "He gets the most consistent jumps as any of them." At the plate, he has become a patient, disciplined hitter, despite getting off to a slow start in the opening series in Hawai'i. "I felt like I struggled all fall, tweaking my swing after not swinging every day," McLain said. "We were constantly working on it, and I never felt exactly right. It was still not going great in Hawai'i and [assistant coach Chris] Hart asked me what I did last year when I was healthy and playing well." McLain told the coach that he had the most success in 2016 w h e n h e s q u a t t e d more and was more open with his stance. "Well, do that," Hart told him. And he's been a hitting machine ever since, collecting three hits in a game on five different occasions through early April and leading the team in doubles. "The thing about Josh is that he doesn't let anything affect him," Avent said. "He just goes out and competes one-on-one with the game. He doesn't let the ups and downs of the game get to him. He just plays with confidence. He's the kind of player you want on your team every day." McLain is not worried about the upcom- ing Major League Baseball Draft, some- thing that looks over the shoulder of every college player who is draft eligible. "I play baseball for the game, not any- thing else," McLain said. "Some people play for the next level. I just like to go out and play. I don't want it to become some- thing that's a business, ever. I don't want it to add stress to my life. I want it to be fun." Besides, McLain already has a mapped- out future, which includes special educa- tion and maybe some high school baseball coaching. If professional baseball precedes those plans, like any good fisherman, he will wait patiently until he's done with that to chase his other ambitions. ■ FOLLOWING HIS DREAMS Junior Center Fielder Josh McLain Has Big Plans On And Off The Field Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker. You may contact him at tmpeeler@ncsu.edu.

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