By David Willis
---- — LOWELL — Red Sox farmhand Jack McGeary may have a degree from Stanford University in classic literature, but that didn’t prevent him from cracking up to the cheesy Eminem film “8 Mile” along with his teammates in the clubhouse earlier this week.
After all, for the Newton resident and former Roxbury Latin star, the opportunity to pitch in the Sox organization is all the reason he needs to be all smiles.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “But to be here, pitching for the Red Sox organization after growing up a Sox fan. What more could I ask for? This is what everyone dreams of.”
Once a promising prospect in the Washington Nationals’ organization, McGeary saw his baseball career derailed by Tommy John surgery that cost him nearly three complete seasons.
But McGeary now has a second chance at his baseball career thanks to his hometown team after being selected by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft. After opening the season with the Lowell Spinners, he is now pitching for the Single-A Greenville Drive.
“This is a lefty pitcher that throws in the 90s with a big curveball,” said Spinners pitching coach Walter Miranda. “Coming back from Tommy John surgery is hard. So is being away from the mound for so long. But the stuff is still there.”
McGeary became a star at Roxbury Latin. As a senior in 2007 he was named Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year, going 5-1 with a 0.88 ERA and 80 strikeouts in just 40 innings.
Websites projected the left-hander to be drafted as high as the first round out of high school, including mlbdraft.com picking him to go 27th overall to the Minnesota Twins But, before the draft, McGeary informed teams that he would not sign and instead would pitch for Stanford.
The Washington Nationals still elected to take a shot on the lefty, selecting him in the sixth round, pick No. 199 overall.
“When I was drafted I didn’t think I was going to sign,” he said. “I was set on going to college. Then, in the 11th hour, they offered me a great deal and the chance to go to school and play. It wasn’t something I could turn down.”’;
McGeary signed a contract with the Nationals with a $1.8 million signing bonus, on par with a late first round pick.
After making a single start late in the 2007 season, McGeary kicked off his professional career in 2008, making 12 starts for the Gulf Coast League Nationals, going 2-2 with 64 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.
He then spent the majority of 2008 with the Single-A Vermont Lake Monsters (2-6, 4.31 ERA, 45 strikeouts) before being promoted to high Single-A Hagerstown. But after eight starts with the Suns in 2009 (4-1, 4.62 ERA), McGeary knew something was wrong.
“It wasn’t that my arm snapped on one pitch,” he said. “But in my last start my arm was hurting really bad. I knew that I couldn’t go on like that and that I had to go see a doctor.”
McGeary needed Tommy John (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) surgery, ending his 2009 season and limiting him to just 16 total innings in the 2011 season. Still struggling to rehab his elbow last season, while also dealing with an intercostal (rib muscle) injury, McGeary pitched just 9 2/3 innings in 2012.
“It’s tough not to look back on all the time I lost,” he said. “But you can drive yourself crazy by looking back. It was especially hard mentally, being away from the game for so long. But I had to take it slowly.”
McGeary assumed that he would be back with Washington for the 2013 season, when he received a call in December that he had been picked by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft, which allows players that have been with an organization for five years and not a member of the 40-man roster to be taken by another organization.
“I had no idea that the Rule 5 draft was going on and I certainly had no idea that I was going to be selected,” he said. “Then I got a call from Boston that they had taken me, and I was thrilled. There isn’t an organization I would rather be a part of. After all, I grew up a Red Sox fan.”
After spending most of the early season rehabbing, McGeary was assigned to the Spinners to start the season. He appeared in five games, allowing five earned runs but striking out 10 over six innings. He was promoted to Greenville on Thursday.
“I feel great,” he said. “I think I have proven I can pitch off my fastball that’s around 91,” he said. “I have gotten a lot of outs with my fastball. My curveball has always been my go-to pitch for strikeouts. When it’s on I feel like I am going good.”
Red Sox Nation
A life-long Boston-area resident and Red Sox fan, nothing could be sweeter for McGeary than having an opportunity with his home team.
“Everyone is a Red Sox fan in Boston,” he said. “I was a freshman in high school when they won the World Series in 2004. I was actually at Fenway Park for one of the ALCS games that season down the first base line. It was just hysteria.”
And like any pitcher growing up in that generation, he idolizes a Red Sox legend.
“Pedro Martinez is my favorite pitcher of all-time,” he said. “He was incredible. I also love Dustin Pedroia. He is so super confident and plays the game so hard every day.”
Scholar on the mound
Red Sox minor leaguer Jack McGeary is more than just a left-handed pitcher with a low-90s fastball and nasty curve.
He’s also a graduate of Stanford University, with a degree in classic literature, history and philosophy. He graduated in 2011.
“It’s really a special accomplishment for me to have my degree from Stanford,” he said. “It is something that I have dreamed of.”
But the pursuit of his education requited intense dedication, since he was also playing professional baseball at the same time.
“It was tough going through full-time baseball and school at the same time,” he said. “There would be times when I would finish a day of spring training and have to go back to the hotel and write a paper when everyone else was relaxing. After a long day of baseball you don’t want to read a textbook. But it was something that I wanted.”