When he was a sophomore at Pinecrest Academy, Ryan McCarthy set baseball aside. He wasn't done with the sport, still playing for the Paladins in the spring, but McCarthy left the travel ball scene and put his focus into football, the sport that he thought gave him the best chance to get to college on a scholarship. He's accomplished that, signing with The Citadel to play quarterback.
It turns out, though, that baseball isn't quite done with McCarthy.
McCarthy has been a solid presence for the Paladins for all four of his years in the program. He hit five home runs as a freshman, and while his production slowed when he was a sophomore, it picked back up his junior year. In his senior year, though, McCarthy had one of the best offensive seasons in the state, hitting .458 with 17 extra-base hits and a .567 on-base percentage.
Pinecrest's coaches saw that production, along with McCarthy's 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame and athletic ability that let him run the Paladins' triple-option offense, and figured that somebody needed to know.
"He's just one of those kids that's good at anything he does," Paladins head baseball coach Ryan Weingart said.
They started reaching out to scouts, asking them to come and see McCarthy play, and once one came, more followed, until there would be five or six gathered to watch McCarthy hit and field before the games and then take at-bats.
McCarthy had decided that football was his sport. His deal to play at The Citadel did not include a spot on the Bulldogs' baseball team. But suddenly, representatives of Major League Baseball teams were coming to see him.
"It's awesome," McCarthy said. "But it got into my head a lot."
He tightened up when the scouts were around, and McCarthy hit what could be qualified as a "slump" by the most cynical definition, his average dipping below .500.
That didn't cause the scouts to flee, though. McCarthy has eye-opening physical tools, with the bat speed and pop to put balls over the fence with regularity, even with a wood bat. His commitment to football has helped McCarthy on the baseball field as well, giving him the speed and arm strength to fit in a corner outfield spot.
When McCarthy had conversations with scouts, they would say that they wished he'd stuck to travel baseball, as the high-level showcase circuit is one of the main ways pro teams discover players and gauge their ability to deal with the best competition. McCarthy, in turn, has reiterated his commitment to honor his scholarship agreement with The Citadel and play football. His passion for that sport hasn't waned, even as his star on the diamond has risen.
"I just really want to go play football at The Citadel," McCarthy said. "And if I could play baseball at The Citadel as well, that'd be the perfect situation for me."
McCarthy said that scouts agree with this assessment, given his relative rawness in baseball. They've offered to talk with the Bulldogs' coaches to vouch for McCarthy's potential, but no formal plan has been made yet. McCarthy said it depends on what his football coaches want to do. Plenty of college athletes have played both sports, including Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State, but such an arrangement would cut into his time with both teams, causing McCarthy to miss fall practice for baseball and spring practice for football.
McCarthy is perfectly satisfied with just playing football from now on. He's turned down offers from scouts to come hit at team workouts, and he can't see a realistic scenario of him signing with a team if he is drafted. McCarthy wants to go to school, he wants to play football, and he knows that minor league baseball is as tough a grind as there is in sports.
He doesn't know whether or not he'll be drafted. McCarthy thinks the chances of that have probably dimmed as the year has gone on and he's told scouts that he wants to go play football.
But the draft is 40 rounds, and there's room for a lot of players there, especially one with the tools and room for improvement of McCarthy. And for all the nerves that the attention has given him, McCarthy also couldn't help but feel a sense of awe.
"It's just an awesome experience as well," he said, "to think that somebody would do that, to come watch you."