You’re hard-put to criticize a man who has enough fortitude to push his athleticism beyond what some might call possible. That’s why sports fans should reserve judgment on Tracy McGrady.
Who doesn’t remember McGrady?
He’s a retired NBA player, a seven-time All-Star in a league where he banked more than a $100 million. He was, however, no Michael Jordan. But then, who was?
Yet McGrady might be more similar to His Airness than it appears. For like Jordan, he is trying his hand at baseball. Yes, Tracy McGrady is trying to play baseball; he’s trying, he said, for the love of the game.
Sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it?
Life does mirror cinema now and then, and what film-goer isn’t a sucker for a movie about long-shot dreams?
And McGrady’s story is about long-shot dreams; it’s also about doing something that has, as McGrady has put it, been in his blood for most of his life. His dream is now taking him to an independent league team.
He’s a 6-foot-8 pitcher in camp with the Sugar Land Skeeters, a team in a stylish slice of Texas that nobody can look at and see the Wild West. Sugar Land isn’t that all-too-typical town somewhere close to nowhere, but in the world of big-time baseball, it is Nowhere, U.S.A.
But folks there do love their baseball; it’s not often a town like Sugar Land can brag about having an All-Star on its roster.
McGrady wouldn’t be its first. A season or so ago, Roger Clemens, a pitcher whose All-Star credentials should have him in Cooperstown, pitched for the Skeeters.
As a ballplayer, McGrady is less like Clemens and more like Jordan. At 34, T-Mac hasn’t played an inning of serious baseball since he was a teenager, and hoping to land a spot as a pitcher on a team of any pro caliber is to revisit the fancy of His Airness himself.
Jordan made a damn fool of himself when he spent a season in the minor leagues. No law prevents a man from making a fool of himself, from being eternally stupid or from being arrogant to the extreme.
One of those three likely describes McGrady, though I’m reticent to say which one it might be. Regardless, he has a right to be any one of them or all three. He can chase the most fanciful of dreams if he’d like, even if his chances of catching one of them are longer than Jordan’s were of going beyond Double-A ball.
To predict what will happen to the multimillionaire T-Mac as a baseball player is impossible. He could well turn out to be the second coming of Bob Gibson or else just be another rag arm that baseball clubs stockpile for spring training camp.
One day in the next few weeks, the Skeeters will decide whether McGrady is a ballplayer or just a carnival novelty — like the circus fat man or the bearded lady.
No one should begrudge him if he doesn’t make anybody’s opening day roster. It’s all right for a grown man to dream, isn’t it?
Maybe Tracy McGrady is trying to figure the latter out. Maybe he’s just trying to shake the competitive bug that bit Jordan hard when he flirted with baseball all those years ago.
It doesn’t matter which, because regardless, McGrady has earned the right to indulge himself. If the Skeeters only see him as a clown act, so what?
In Sugar Land, Texas, he will not have as much clown makeup to put on as Michael Jordan did when he was stumbling around the emerald outfields for the Birmingham Barons back in the summer of ’93.
Jordan learned, as McGrady is sure to learn, that professional baseball was no one’s slam-dunk.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
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