Brandon McCarthy didn't get to live out his childhood dream. So he decided to play professional baseball instead.
McCarthy, an alum of Cheyenne Mountain High School, had dreams of playing Division I baseball at Louisiana State University. His freshman year, he opted to go the junior college route. He went 12-0 as a starter in his lone year of junior college ball. The Chicago White Sox liked what they saw enough to draft McCarthy in 2002.
Throughout his career, he has pitched for seven major league teams and remained in the league for the better part of the last 13 years.
He's an avid Twitter user, often receiving praise for his comic delivery. He maintains perspective regardless of how well he's throwing on any given day.
Currently pitching for the Atlanta Braves, McCarthy took the time to talk with CHSAANow.com about topics ranging from pitch counts to whether or not altitude is really a factor when it comes to pitching.
Question: Something that Colorado has done in recent years is institute a pitch count rule, getting away from the limits of innings. If you can think back to when you were playing and with what you know now, is a pitch count a better way to develop kids and limit injuries?
McCarthy: I think that’s a really good question. And I don't know. I think more than anything, the pitch count limits the adult influence over a kid's career which I think is somewhat important. Being really competitive from ages 14 to 17 is a good thing for people who have aspirations for doing more. The wins and losses at that level aren't as important.
You get a coach, you get a parent, you get someone who desperately wants to win this for whatever reason and it puts the kid at risk. That’s what you’re protecting from.
I don't actually remember having innings limits when I was there, but it could be that I’ve forgotten it or wasn’t aware it. I’m not sure. I think those things are good, but I think over time I don’t know if they’ll lessen injuries.
For years we thought in professional baseball we should come back to down to 100 pitches and let’s go backwards that way. I don’t know if we’ve seen injuries go down other than shoulder injuries. Maybe throwing a baseball is just what does it. If you’re lowering the percentage even somewhat, I think it’s a good thing.
Q: You took the route of going to junior college for a year, you got drafted and then signed. It seems like these days, kids are going after the biggest D-I offer they can get ahold of. Is baseball different from football or baseball in that sense that there is no one path to play professionally and is it more important to find the right fit rather than the best offer?
McCarthy: Yeah. And I think the hardest thing about being 18 or having kids that will be 18 is that you don’t know what that route looks like. So the best fit is what you think at the current moment and then four months later, it’s the completely wrong fit. I’ve heard of a lot of kids at D-I schools where it was just the wrong choice but they picked it because their friends were going there or it was the most prestigious or whatever.
I forever will advocate for the junior college level for people who want to monitor themselves year after year. I think having to wait three years at a Division I school before you turn pro is a little bit tough for some kids in terms of striking while the iron is hot.
A good junior college that’s run properly and doing everything it’s supposed to do to develop kids, I think you can get good quickly and it’s less of a crazy situation that the NCAA has. You have to do your research and find the best fit for you, but it’s so different for each individual player.
Q: How did you know you were ready to turn pro?
McCarthy: I don’t really know. My whole goal was to play at LSU, playing professional ball was more of a side thought. As it got closer, it became something I knew I had to think about.
My freshman year (of college) I pitched really well that whole year and it was more of a thought that I might be bored if I go back. I think that’s how I knew. I had to take the next step I either had to go Division I and go to LSU or go pro. Some weird things happened with LSU so the pro thing was the next natural fit.
I feel like I was getting better and better on a daily basis and I felt like I had matured a lot in that one year. Looking back, you realize that you don’t know half the things you think you knew so you go in kind of ignorant. I think I was just of the mentality to go to another level and be better, I guess.
Q: Social media has become a big thing especially for high athletes these days. You’re one of the best general Twitter followers just in terms of your personality and comic delivery. Would you have behaved the way you do now when you were in high school if social media was around?
McCarthy: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I would’ve had tremendously stupid thoughts at that time or at least ones where kids are nuking their own careers because of it. But it’s hard to say not having grown up in an era of social media. I don’t think I would be pumping out nonsense left and write. For me, I think if I just had a kids in that situation I would tell them to be unbelievably careful with it.
Don’t say controversial, use your personality, try to always be positive. Until you’re in a place where you have the leverage to really say what you want, I guess, whether it’s controversial or not. Until you’re in that place, make sure everything is positive and make sure everything will be read by someone you don’t want to read it.
Q: I feel like when I look at your tweets I get the sense you’re very grounded and you know who you are, what you’re doing and you also know what the big scheme of life looks like. How have you been able to maintain that perspective despite pitching in the majors for over 13 years?
McCarthy: I really don’t know. I think my parents did a great job at giving me a life outlook that was solid. I try to surround myself with people who wouldn’t let you blow yourself up and treating you like you’re the greatest thing on Earth. Because you’re not. You’re just doing something different than what everyone else does for work.
Something it makes you feel special inside, but sometimes you have to round that out with remembering that I just go to a different work place and that’s it. The more you try to think that everyone is just doing what they can to get from one day to the next, you’re not that important I guess, it helps tame those thoughts that I can do whatever I want and be whoever I want because I’m better than people. Once you get rid of that I’m better than anybody thought, I think it helps you.
Q: Growing up in Colorado, is it a myth or is it real that it’s tougher to throw at altitude?
McCarthy: Oh no, it’s incredibly tougher to throw at altitude. When you’re growing up there, you don’t know the difference because you’re not doing it anywhere else. Once you get to another level where you’re in tune with the feel of what pitches do and it’s less of a guessing game than it is maybe at the high school level, even the college level, once you figure it out professionally you realize this pitch didn’t do what it was supposed to do, that pitch went a little farther, it becomes a mental battle.
When you’re in high school, you’re just throwing and wanting to get this guy out and you simplify it more. Once it’s more technique based, you realize altitude is an absolute nightmare.
Q: Does it a kid to have a reputation that he learned how to throw at altitude or does it not matter at that level?
McCarthy: I wouldn’t think it matters that much. Maybe it does. It all normalizes. So maybe if you have an unbelievable curveball at altitude then that bodes really well for you when you’re not at altitude or same with a slider or sinker. But it’s that same thing, if you don’t know any different, there’s no mental thing, it’s adjusting to the way the rest of the world is at sea-level and then all of a sudden coming back to high altitude.
I don’t think Colorado guys coming back and pitching in Denver have had any more success, at least that I can think of anecdotally, but maybe if someone looked that up, they’d see I was wrong. I go there and I feel like everybody else does, which is pretty neutered.
Q: Does it feel like your pitches looked the same way they did in high school?
McCarthy: No, it’s just a throwing difference. Other than a curveball, I don’t throw anything the same way. You’ve done so much working at refining and touching and changing little things here and there that if I even watched, I don’t know if video of me in high school exists, but if I saw it I’m pretty sure I’d be shocked at what it looks like. The similarities 17 years ago and now are probably next to none other than I’m tall and skinny.
Q: With the career you had, what advice would you give high school pitchers who aspire to go this route, whether it’s their dream school or that ambition of making it to the majors?
McCarthy: Act like you have a job earlier than you do. It’s weird to call playing baseball at the high school level or even earlier than that a job because it’s not. But I always approaching things fairly professionally in a sense where I wanted to really work hard or thought a lot about what I was doing and then kept trying to get better. It was less of a three-hour activity in the afternoon. It was a focused three-hour activity with something specific I was trying to do with the goal always to be better than I was before.
I think that’s the most important thing. It can’t just be something you’re doing. It has to be something that you’re really drilled in on every day and trying to get better. It’s the only way to keep moving forward.
Q: What’s the one thing you remember about pitching for Cheyenne Mountain?
McCarthy: I remember a lot of my senior year. I pitched really well that year and I had a lot of fun. Our team was really good. I think we lost in the state semis. As far as I know, Cheyenne hadn’t gotten anywhere baseball-wise or advanced very far. It was a surprise to all of us that we were really good and going really far. I remember that was a fun thing and the school got swept up in it.
We had a playoff game at home and most of the school came out and watched it. It was a very fun thing that it was the first time we were playing baseball and felt like people were paying attention and that meant a lot growing up, especially in Colorado. It was just really fun to play when there were real stakes on the line.