Yesterday, the Sugar Land Skeeters announced that former NBA star Tracy McGrady had been added to the team’s opening day roster.
McGrady, joined the team as a non-roster invitee during Spring Training before earning one of the 25 roster spots, and will work out of the bullpen as a pitcher despite never playing professional baseball before.
After the move was announced, comments began to surface online about the move being a publicity stunt more than a way to help the ball club over the long haul.
Does signing a retired NBA player with local ties bring publicity to the Skeeters?
When Michael Jordon retired for the first time 20 years ago and joined the Birmingham Barons, Ballparks across the Southern League were filled to capacity with people wanting to see him play.
While some could rightly argue that Jordon is a bigger star than McGrady, and that there is a difference between a player in affiliated ball versus the independent leagues, the fact remains that people tend to pay attention when players try to pick up an entirely different sport than the one they are known for.
While the Skeeters are entering their third season of competition in the Atlantic League, it is entirely possible that there were many people in the Houston area who had not heard of the team before the McGrady announcement was made.
So yes, signing a retired NBA player to your roster does bring the sort of media coverage that helps build a team’s reputation.
One of the local television stations even broadcast live from Opening Day yesterday and had one of their meteorologists throw out the first pitch after she received some pointers from Roger Clemens.
It should be noted that McGrady also worked with Clemens before starting on the quest to become a professional baseball player.
Speaking of Clemens, the Skeeters were the team where “The Rocket” pitched his final two games as a professional player.
The Skeeters are also the team where current Oakland Athletics starter Scott Kazmir was given a second chance after seemingly losing control of his pitches and having his future as a professional baseball player in serious doubt.
The Skeeters gave Clemens a chance to “have a catch” with his son in a professional game before calling it a career and also allowed Kazmir to regain his control and resume his Major League career.
Granted Kazmir and Clemens were both Major League Baseball players at one time. So, their stories are slightly different than that of a retired basketball player giving baseball a chance.
However, they both show a history of giving players a second chance more than staging mere publicity stunts.
McGrady did not play during last night’s opener. I am sure that disappointed some people in the sellout crowd. It should also temper some of those who are calling the move to sign him a publicity stunt only.
The fact that he did not pitch last night shows that manager Gary Gaetti, and the rest of the coaching staff, are not in the publicity stunt business and are there to win ballgames.
Were McGrady merely a publicity stunt to sell tickets and jerseys, the Skeeters would run him out onto the mound at every opportunity.
Speaking of jerseys, there was a wide assortment of McGrady items in the gift shop during Spring Training which pointed to the likelihood of McGrady’s inclusion on the roster well ahead of the actual announcement yesterday.
As a rule, teams rarely spend money on jerseys for non-roster invitees.
Unfortunately, the Skeeters fell in their season opener to the Lancaster Barnstormers. Thankfully, one loss does not always set the tone for the season.
And if signing a former NBA star does bring more attention to the region regarding the existence of the Skeeters, than that is not entirely a bad thing.
The Skeeters offer a good product at a reasonable price and provide that small Ballpark feel that the Minor Leagues are famous for.
While the roster includes many players with Major League experience, there are also players who never quite made it to the “Show” and are merely playing for the love of the game.
Contrast that with some of the Major League players who seem to only be in it for the money, and one can see why the Minor League version of the game is preferred by many fans.
While the Houston Astros are still the Major League Baseball game in town, there is plenty of room for the Skeeters and other teams in the region.
In fact, the Atlantic League is set to add more teams in the Western Division in the coming years which will give fans other options when it comes to watching baseball.
More teams in the Atlantic League will also mean that the Skeeters will likely not have as many long road trips to the east coast.
In the meantime, the Skeeters and the Astros could always just have a royal rumble for bragging rights in the region. Were the two Houston area professional teams ever to play a scrimmage together the result would likely be closer than one might expect.
As for Tracy McGrady, time will tell if his transition from the arenas of the NBA to the Ballparks of the Atlantic League leads to a lasting second career and potential Major League Baseball debut.
For now, the only thing that matters is that he can call himself a professional baseball player who is living out a childhood dream.
It is always good when dreams can come true.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my tickets for the game tomorrow.
Copyright 2014 R. Anderson