On Saturday night, Tracy McGrady, former two-time NBA scoring champion and seven-time NBA All-Star, played professional baseball for a team called the Sugar Land Skeeters in Sugar Land, Texas. Eight notes from the game:
McGrady's history, to me and to the world
McGrady is one of my all-time favorite NBA players. His movements were always just so languid and seamless. He really was breathtaking. When he played, it seemed less like he was moving around a basketball court and more like he was performing in a ballet. When I played basketball, it looked as if someone dropped a pail of wrenches down a flight of stairs. I suppose that's why I was drawn to him.
I remember first rooting for him when he was in Toronto. (This was back when he was playing with Vince Carter, with whom basically everyone on earth was in love because that was back before he became insufferable.) I followed McGrady to Orlando (where he was unreal) then the Rockets (when he started to become a second-tier superhero, like Hawkeye* or Daredevil**) then the Knicks (where he was human) then the Pistons (where he passed away) then the Hawks (where his body became wholly stiffened from rigor mortis) then the Spurs (where he was angel from heaven). We had a brief breakup after he poured acid on the Spurs in 2004 (his legendary 13 points in 35 seconds game), but we've since made up. Tracy McGrady is dope. He's all-world. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. And if you don't think so then I hate you.
*Oh, you're very good at shooting arrows? Cool. So's basically everyone in the Winter Olympics.
**He was blinded by a radioactive substance but that same radioactive substance heightened all of his other senses so his superpower was that he could almost see but still not really.
Sugar Land is a slightly deceptive name
Sugar Land is a city right outside of Houston. It sounds like a place that you'd land on if you were playing Candy Land. It's not though. (They don't even have any normal mountains, let alone one made of gumdrops.) Mostly, it's just a place where people that make a nice amount of money move to when they don't want to live in Houston anymore. They called it Sugar Land because it was founded as a sugar plantation, and also because Imperial Sugar's distribution center used to be there. If you tell your kids you're taking them to Sugar Land they get super-duper excited. Then when you get there they act like first-class jerks because it's not a city made of lollipops like they'd imagined. Basically what I'm saying is don't tell them you're taking them to Sugar Land if you're taking them to Sugar Land. Tell them you're taking them to Omaha or the doctor's office or whatever.
The Sugar Land Skeeters are part of a professional baseball team in something called the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which describes itself as the "highest level of Minor League Baseball." The league is 16 years old. The Skeeters, however, are relatively new; this is only their third season. If you seem to remember the name, it's because Roger Clemens pitched there in August 2012. McGrady actually worked with Clemens when he decided he wanted to pursue being a pitcher. Neat note: The catcher McGrady was throwing to during the game was actually Clemens' son Koby.
An actual skeeter
"Skeeter" is a slang term for "mosquito." The name was voted on by fans of the team. I suppose if you're going to name your baseball team after a parasite, "Skeeter" is fine enough.
In 35 pitches, he threw 18 strikes (though no strikeouts), gave up a home run and a base hit, and recorded two walks. (You can see him pitch right here.)
I asked one of the stadium staff members how he felt about McGrady's performance. His response: "It was a good showing. Now we can release him and get a real pitcher."
It's nice to see that McGrady's baseball fans are as unruly as his basketball fans were.
The four best songs played
All through the game, music was played over the PA system. The four best songs that were played:
"Walk It Out": They played it any time one of the Skeeters players was walked, which is probably a thing that happens at a lot of baseball parks. It's a good enough song all by itself (it's actually the platinum debut single from an Atlanta rapper that accidentally named himself Unk). More important than that though: It's the soundtrack to the part in "Stomp the Yard" where the main good guy dance battles the main bad guy for the first time. I can't think of a more important scene in my whole life.
"Dark Horse": This is that Katy Perry/Juicy J song. You can pretend you don't like it if you want, but, come on. It's pretty great. The drop right where Juicy J comes in is perfect.
The very loud, very exciting song from "The Departed": I could look it up but you know the one I'm talking about. It's the one that's very loud and very exciting.
"Jump, Jump": Sometimes I miss 1992 a lot.
The fifth-best song that was played: "For the Love of Money." I don't know if that song is supposed to make me think of money or the O'Jays or maybe even stealing from my mother. It doesn't make me think of any of that though. It makes me think of Ice-T, because he was in a movie called "New Jack City" from 1991 that I still watch today and "For the Love of Money" is on the soundtrack. "New Jack City" is the greatest movie Ice-T was in of all time. The others in his top five: 5) "Leprechaun in the Hood" (2000); 4)"Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" (1985); 3) "Mean Guns" (1997); and 2.) "Surviving the Game" (1994).
McGrady and baseball
McGrady pitched only 1 2/3 innings. As is usually the case with baseball, the rest of the time was mostly spent just waiting around and enjoying the air. McGrady spent a few minutes talking to reporters about things. Most of his comments were ready-made. ("I love this. This is what I love waking up doing every day. I love being around these guys in the clubhouse.")
But one comment felt larger than all the rest, and, upon examination, I found to be ultra-moving. After speaking for a few moments about pitch count, he worked his way to saying, "If this is the only time I pitch, it's a gratifying feeling." That's a powerful statement thick with sentiment.
McGrady has talked for a long time about how much he always loved baseball, how he probably would've pursued it fully if he'd been at a school that offered it (and probably if he'd not grown to be 6-foot-8). That he was able to accomplish this at 34 years old on a professional level as an afterthought to an impressive career in a different sport altogether is a bright, beautiful indicator of his cosmic athleticism, but that there’s a possibility that it’s over already --and that he expressed it-- is maybe the most McGrady of all.
I remember watching Game 7 between the Rockets and the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs. McGrady threw up a very McGrady-like line (29 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks), but couldn't drag his teammates to victory. They lost by four. During the press conference afterward, McGrady cried softly. It was hard to watch. But it didn't feel unnatural. It just felt like part of his arc.
This does too. It didn't feel like a play for publicity or the last bit of light from a dying star, it just felt like what it was: A guy throwing baseballs for a few minutes. And that's dope for him. He deserved the moment. And if you don't think so then I hate you.