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Giants Outfielder Grant McCray Aims To Make His Own Name

Grant Mccray (Shelly Valenzuela San Jose Giants)
Grant McCray (Shelly Valenzuela/San Jose Giants)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.—Grant McCray was still nine years from being born when his father became a staple of blooper reels for a generation.

Rodney McCray played parts of three seasons in the majors for the White Sox and Mets, but that’s not what he’s remembered for. He’s remembered for the night of May 27, 1991, when, playing for Triple-A Vancouver, he ran straight through the outfield fence trying to make a catch in right field. The incident would be replayed in stadiums across the country for the next 30 years, and still plays on a loop at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Grant, born in 2000, found the video funny like everyone else once he was old enough to understand what had happened. As he moved into his teenage years, however, it became a source of motivation.

He didn’t want to be just the son of the guy on the blooper reels. He wanted to create his own baseball legacy.

“It gets annoying,” Grant said. “I don’t want to be known as ‘Oh, that’s just his son.’ I want to be known for my name. My first name’s not Rodney. My first name is Grant. I gotta play for me. I can’t play for him.”

McCray, 21, has gotten off to a noteworthy start in his first full season at Low-A San Jose this season. A third-round pick by the Giants out of Lakewood Ranch (Bradenton, Fla.) High in 2019, he earned rave reviews in minor league spring training and has carried it over to the regular season. Entering Friday, he is batting .287/.384/.559 with 20 extra-base hits and nine steals in 34 games while playing standout defense in center field. He has become an early favorite of scouts across the California League and is one of the fastest rising prospects in the Giants system.

He still has a long way to go to surpass his father, both in terms of fame and a major league career. Thus far, he’s on the right track.

“You watch him running around in center field, he looks like a deer out there sometimes,” said San Jose hitting coach Travis Ishikawa, the eight-year major league veteran and two-time World Series champion with the Giants. “You can see a ball in the gap and you see where it’s looking and you’re looking at him and you’re like 'Eh, I don’t know' and then before you know it he’s tracking it down and making those plays.

“And then some of the adjustments he’s made in the box, some of the pitches that he takes with two strikes to get himself back into counts, and then he ends up hitting a ball hard somewhere. Those are those little things. You don’t need always wow moments. Just doing the little things constantly all the time, for me, that’s what I notice.”

McCray had a solid debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019 after he was drafted, but he had to wait longer than expected for his first full season. The coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 minor league season and he was limited to just 45 games in 2021 by a sprained UCL in his right elbow.

After having to wait two years to make his full-season debut, McCray was chomping at the bit for 2022. He attacked his offseason weight and speed training with extra focus and dedication. He spent hours in the cage honing his swing and approach. In his own words, he wanted to “come out with everything I got, lay it all on the table.”

Ishikawa was McCray’s hitting coach in the AZL in 2019 and reunited with him this season. Immediately, he saw the difference in how much McCray had grown.

“The biggest thing is just maturity,” Ishikawa said. “He always had a great eye at the plate, good approach. It was just real raw in the swing and a lot of stuff not really knowing who he was.

“Physically he’s getting bigger and stronger, working hard in the weight room. And then the mental side, just having a better idea of what he’s looking for. He’s not just going up there swinging at anything that’s close. He’s working counts and trying to get into leveraged counts and then just not missing them.”

Indeed, McCray hasn’t missed much recently. After hitting balls hard but running into bad luck the first month of the season, McCray has been one of the minors’ hottest hitters since May began. He is batting .344/.425/.667 this month with seven doubles, four triples, five home runs, 19 RBIs and 20 runs scored in 22 games.

The power spike is particularly notable. Less than a third of the way into the season, McCray has already set new career highs in doubles, triples and home runs.

“I just feel like I’ve just been tapping into it better,” McCray said. “Just having like a more smooth and connected swing than the past few years. It’s always been there. The power’s been there, but I’ve just never been able to put it all together.”

While the increased power has been a welcome development, that was not McCray’s primary goal this year. His goal was more predicated around his speed, which he shows off closing ground in center field but is trying to be more efficient with on the bases. He is currently 9-for-12 on stolen bases, and has a lofty number for the season in mind.

“I really wanted to focus on trying to get at least 50 stolen bases coming into this year,” he said. “I made a few bets with my trainer. He said if I get 50 bags I get the whole year off with no payment, so I’m trying to do that. And then one of my coaches said he’ll get me a pair of shoes if I get 50, so that was about it.”

McCray’s tools are obvious, but that’s not what stands out most to Ishikawa. Rather, it’s McCray’s demeanor, shaped in part by his father.

Luis Garcia (Mike Ehrmann/Getty) 1272867667

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After Rodney McCray’s playing career was over, he became a minor league coach and instructor in the Dodgers organization. Often, he took Grant along to games with him. From a young age, Grant had unique awareness of the cramped clubhouses, long bus rides, empty stadiums and remote towns that make minor league baseball a mental grind as much as a physical one.

“Just like what I’m going to be, what I’m going to expect, what I’m going to get in this job,” McCray said. “It’s a real grind. You’re not getting million dollar facilities. You’re getting hundred thousand dollar facilities that were made in the 1980s, 1970s, stuff like that. I mean, you get what you get.”

During a hot day recently at Inland Empire’s San Manuel Stadium, most of the players were dragging under the sun during batting practice. McCray was a bright exception, singing loudly along to the pregame playlist, yucking it up with his teammates and instilling energy into everyone around him.

It wasn’t a show. On a day to day basis, his positive energy shines through.

“He’s fantastic,” Ishikawa said. “He keeps things light. You have to. You’re in A-ball, coming to some tough cities, some tough clubhouses, lights aren’t that big, we’d like to see more fans in the stands but that’s not always the case. You gotta love the game of baseball to play minor league baseball, and he definitely finds the light in it for sure.”

That doesn’t mean McCray should be mistaken for a goofball. His focus and dedication when it’s time to work are often among the best on the field, and his relentless, high-effort style of play has made him a favorite of scouts and coaches.

“I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders," Ishikawa said. "The good thing about him is he’s always worked hard. I remember him like I said in 2019 and even through this year, he’s a hard worker. I see it in the weight room, I see it in his batting practice, I see it shagging out in the field. I see the way he plays the game. I think as long as he keeps that mentality and focuses on the right things, then he’s going to be just fine regardless of how much attention he gets.”

McCray is continually attracting more and more attention with his play. Rather than shy away from it, he embraces it. The more attention he attracts, the more he can make his legacy his own, and separate from his father’s legacy and the blooper real.

“It got really old when I was a kid, seeing that video everywhere,” he said. “It’s just something that brings me out of my funk. I’m trying to build myself, just trying to build my name, not live under his.”

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