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The voice on the line was cool, smooth, confident.
Tracy McGrady was saying he was intent on playing professional baseball, to pitch, the way he did in high school half a lifetime ago, before basketball became his only thing, before winning a couple of scoring titles in the NBA, before age and fatigue and X-rays ended it.
"This is not a gimmick," he said. "This is serious business. I don't want to embarrass myself or my family or an organization. This is real."
He is 34 years old, maybe a little late to start – restart, perhaps – a baseball career. He made more than $160 million as a basketball player in salary alone. Then the back, the shoulder, the knee. He has businesses away from the court. This wasn't necessary.
And yet, what the heck, he picked up a baseball. He spent a week in Los Angeles with Tom House at USC, threw for Roger Clemens, threw to Roger's son, Koby, worked out with Arizona Diamondbacks scout Scipio Spinks, picked up a slider and a splitter over the past three months, and by Tuesday afternoon he was officially seeking work as a pitcher.
"Honestly speaking," McGrady said, "I had it in the back of my mind my whole NBA career."
The independent Sugar Land Skeeters, whose ballpark is not far from downtown Houston, issued a statement saying, "We look forward to monitoring his progress."
The Skeeters, managed by Gary Gaetti, would appear to be McGrady's most likely destination, if it comes to that. Tryouts are in late March. The season begins in late April.
So, we are inclined to think of Michael Jordan, who, 20 years ago, at 31, skipped an NBA season and hit .202 for the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. And Danny Ainge, who in his early 20s hit .220 in parts of three seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays. And now perhaps McGrady, the right-hander who, according to some reports, has a fastball bearing down on 90 mph.
"That's a little bit of an exaggeration," he said with a laugh. "But, pretty good mph."
Asked to describe what he could be as a pitcher, McGrady said, "Well, first of all, you gotta 6-foot-8 guy standing on the mound. Still working on my velo. Command's pretty good. Fastball, splitter, slider, change."
But, McGrady added, this is simpler than that. Yes, he wants this to work. Yes, he thinks he can. Yes, there's a lot of ground to cover, and quickly.
"What I want it to turn into is to pursue a professional baseball career," he said. "This is my childhood dream. I don't know where this is going to go, honestly. But I'm committed to it."
He repeated several times this is not a stunt, not some reach to stay relevant. It comes from a better place, he said.
"This is just sheer love for the game," he said. "It's just an athlete that always wanted to fulfill his dream to play baseball."