McCarthy Homecoming An Exciting Time
MOOSIC There were still cheers awaiting his walks to home plate. More than any other player on the field heard, for sure. Whether they wore the home uniform, or the visiting blues. It’s going to be like that over the next few days for Joe McCarthy, of course. It’s not often a kid from Scranton comes back to play Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And what we’ve been seeing at PNC Field over the last few days has never been done before: A kid from Scranton coming back home, trying to hoist the Governors’ Cup on the field he dreamed of playing, at the expense of the franchise he grew up watching. There were still cheers. There were still family members watching from the suite level. There was still the surreal feeling that his first season in Triple-A ball brought him all the way back home to play the most important games of the season. Then, there’s also the reality: The RailRiders aren’t just going to hand this to him. If Tuesday night was the official homecoming for McCarthy, it was also the realization that this was eventually going to morph into a very big series played entirely in the opponent’s backyard. A series in which his team would need to rally. McCarthy and the Durham Bulls did that Wednesday night, behind a two-run first-inning bomb of a home run by former RailRiders prospect Rob Refsnyder and a pitching staff that barely let the RailRiders offense breathe in a 5-2 victory. McCarthy went 0 for 4, struck out twice and had some trouble getting a read on RailRiders lefty Nestor Cortes, the man of a million release points. It was a quiet night compared the opener when he reached base twice. He’ll take this one every time, though. “With the pregame lineups yesterday, getting my name called out and getting the applause I did, I was really excited. Pretty emotional before the game,” McCarthy said. “But (Wednesday), I really felt like I was settled in, trying to get back to the baseball side of it.” The RailRiders’ rain-drenched 3-2 win in the opener put McCarthy and the Bulls on notice. This, as good as the Bulls have been all around this season — and they outscored the RailRiders by a whopping 75 runs in 2018 — would be a grind of a series against a team with starting pitching that can compete with anybody. It had to be difficult in that sense for McCarthy to, as he put it, settle in to a baseball team. Because just being here has been so surreal for him. A few months ago, just about a week before the Bulls were going to travel north and McCarthy was going to get to play his long-awaited first game as a pro at PNC Field, he landed on the disabled list with a back injury. He thought his season was over. He had, as he put it, almost “given up” on the idea of rejoining the Bulls. Now here he is. Not only back with Durham, but back in Scranton, in front of his screaming friends and proud family. And competing for a championship. It has to be an amazing feeling. It has to be a bit nerve-wracking, too. “I caught myself in this weird feeling before (Game 1) of not being nervous, but just really being excited to get out there and play in front of my friends and family,” he said, “because two months ago, this was something I never thought would have happened, thinking I was going to be out for the year. “It may not look like it right now, but I’m really locked into the series. The nerves are starting to settle in. But it’s hard, in this type of atmosphere, being what I’ve been through this year.” As the days pass, this is going to start to feel even less surreal and more like what it really is for Joe McCarthy: A chance to do something practically nobody gets to do. Win a championship against his hometown team, practically in his backyard, in a stadium where he used to get excited to suit up on occasion in some big high school games for the Scranton Knights. Just, not this excited. And, probably not this big. “I don’t want to call today a must win,” McCarthy smiled, “but it kind of was.” The series is even now. The Governors’ Cup essentially will be decided in a three-game series the likes of which McCarthy will never forget. Getting here was all he dreamed of, but the most important thing now is playing here some more. Because winning the Cup here would transcend even his wildest dreams. DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.