Tracy McGrady is serious about pursuing baseball as a second career, a former high school coach of the seven-time NBA all-star said.
Eric Robinson, the basketball coach of Auburndale (Fla.) High for 12 years and an assistant during McGrady’s three years there, said there was no doubt about McGrady’s favorite pastime.
“Baseball was always his first love,” Robinson said. “I still think, if he hadn’t have continued growing (to 6-foot-8), baseball was what he was going to do.”
McGrady grew from 6-3 to 6-8 from his sophomore to junior year at Auburndale, Robinson said, and that got him noticed on the basketball courts.
But he was already dominant on the diamond.
“He was already 6-foot-tall at 12-years-old, and he looked like a giant on the mound,” Robinson said. “He threw the ball so fast, and then he’d come back with a knuckleball. The other kids didn’t have a chance.”
McGrady turned to hoops because of his growth spurt.
“Basketball always came easy to him (and) he grew into basketball,” Robinson said. McGrady left Auburndale after his junior year to play basketball for Mount Zion Academy in Durham, N.C.
Robinson said the move was a “blessing” for McGrady and for Auburndale and its population of just over 11,000, as it brought a modicum of fame to the small town in Polk County.
But Robinson admitted the multi-sport star’s decision to leave for North Carolina was crushing to then-head coach Ty Willis and surprised him, too.
“He was going to be our starting quarterback and play baseball and basketball, but he got noticed on the basketball court and said he was going off to North Carolina,” Robinson said. “I was surprised because he was always a homebody. He still comes back three-to-four times a year here.”
As for baseball, Robinson, who spoke recently with McGrady, said it’s not a fleeting thought.
“I asked him about it,” Robinson said. “And he told me he’s training five days a week. He said, ‘Eric, I’m not playing with this thing. I’m not going out to just swing a bat. I’m going and giving it my all.’ ”
For his part, Robinson said he thought when McGrady, then struggling with injuries in his NBA career, hit 30 that he’d retire and pursue baseball.
“During his time in the NBA, in the offseason, he was always out hitting and throwing,” Robinson said.
Robinson said McGrady recently worked with Roger Clemens and that he was showing velocity of 85 mph.
Asked how far McGrady would pursue his dream, Robinson said, “This is not one of those, ‘I’m an athlete, I’m going to go play.’ He’s had some injuries, some back injuries and stuff, but (baseball) doesn’t have a whole lot of wear and tear. It’s not a whole lot of jumping around.”
Still, will McGrady, who reportedly has drawn interest from the Sugar Land Skeeters, commit to riding the buses in the Atlantic League beyond this season?
“He really hasn’t said,” Robinson said. “He’s just kind of living in the moment. He’s going to go give it everything he’s got.”