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Joe McCarthy Gets Second Shot At Homecoming

September 11, 2018

One more week and Joe McCarthy would’ve been home.

One more week and the Scranton native would’ve been on the diamond at PNC Field as his Durham Bulls took on the RailRiders, getting a chance to play in front of friends and family.

Then came a back injury and a trip to the disabled list at the end of May. He would miss most of the season and his shot at a homecoming, too.

Unless, of course, a Governors’ Cup rematch could materialize.

“Honestly, I did not see this coming at all,” McCarthy said.

Durham made the playoffs with the second-best record in the International League, then dispatched of Toledo in four games to reach the championship series.

The RailRiders won the wild card and faced Lehigh Valley in the other semifinal.

“We thought the opportunity went out the window,” McCarthy’s dad Joe said. “We’re sitting here and I said this could all fall into place. When the RailRiders played the IronPigs, I said one way or the other, it’s up to Durham. If they win, he comes home. It would be nice if the RailRiders won.”

Shortly after the Bulls finished off the Mud Hens, Bruce Caldwell hit a 10th-inning grand slam, sending the RailRiders past Lehigh Valley in four games.

Beginning tonight, McCarthy will get that homecoming after all.

“This has all just been a little crazy for me, considering where I was at two months ago in my rehab with a pretty good chance that I was going to be down for the entire year and kind of looking at what my plan was going to be for this offseason, and getting healthy, getting at-bats in,” McCarthy said from Durham before the Bulls boarded buses for Moosic.

“It’s a little bit crazy for me to — I can’t really wrap my head around it, knowing that I’m here, healthy, got a couple weeks in in the season and now I get to head to Scranton and play.”

Even if Durham and the RailRiders met in the playoffs, it wasn’t a guarantee McCarthy would be healthy enough to get back on the field in time. Needing to be able to swing a bat, run, throw and dive — back injuries have to be fully healed in order for someone to play baseball, McCarthy said, and the Tampa Bay Rays were going to move slowly with their 2015 fifth-round pick.

“It’s something that can’t be rushed,” he said. “I knew the rehab, I knew the length of it and it was going to be slow and they were going to take their time with me and make sure I was 100 percent when they sent me back.”

McCarthy, 24, didn’t have any setbacks, however, and was back playing lower-level games Aug. 9. He returned to Durham on Aug. 21.

“I’m 100 percent right now,” he said. “This is the best I’ve felt since before I got hurt.”

He had five doubles and three home runs over the last 12 games of the regular season, and roughed up Toledo with a 4-for-15 series where he homered — a go-ahead, two-run blast in Durham’s Game 3 win — and tripled.

“Coming back, I’ve just been really excited, not really worrying about numbers or anything like that,” he said. “Just happy to be playing baseball.”

The Rays will send McCarthy to the Arizona Fall League in October to catch up on some of the at-bats he missed. Before that, however, he’ll get a chance to play in his hometown and at a stadium he last played in as a high schooler.

RailRiders starter Mike King recently got such an opportunity. The Warwick, Rhode Island, native took the mound against Pawtucket in SWB’s final game of the regular season. Even though the RailRiders wrapped up a postseason berth the night before, it turned into a big game for King.

“It just felt like a very meaningful game,” said King, who will start Game 3 against Durham. “I was really pumped up for a very meaningful game and it had no meaning to it (in regard to the RailRiders’ season).

“Once I got word that I was going to (pitch), all my buddies were really excited. It was cool. I definitely was a little more amped up than I normally would be, especially for a game that didn’t even matter. It was awesome just to see the support.”

McCarthy can count on that kind of support, too.

“The response has been really good,” RailRiders team president and general manager Josh Olerud said.

“Former players and high school friends and supporters and all that different stuff have been reaching out at a pretty high volume. I think (today) and Wednesday will be above par on the attendance side for a playoff game.”

Contact the writer:

cfoley@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9125;

@RailRidersTT on Twitter

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