story by Steve McCarthy
photos by Marc Lachance
July 10, 2010
University of Arkansas sophomore catcher James McCann faced a tough decision this spring: Accept an invitation to try out for an opportunity to represent his country and compete in tournaments around the world, or spend the summer with the Cotuit Kettleers franchise of the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League.
The choice to become a Kettleer was not made overnight. Both routes present the best talent in college baseball and a stage in front of Major League scouts. McCann’s numbers at Arkansas gave him a legitimate shot at playing time with either club.
“The fact that Team USA gets to travel across the world is an unbelievable thing that not many kids can say they did,” McCann said Thursday before a CCBL game in Cotuit. “Playing with the USA across your chest is something that very few people have the ability to say.”
McCann consulted with Arkansas teammate Zack Cox, the sophomore All-American third baseman who was the 25th overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft and Most Valuable Player of the Kettleers last summer. While striving to remain unbiased, Cox relayed the knowledge he absorbed from Cotuit field manager Mike Roberts and staff, which helped boost his draft stock 19 rounds from 2008.
“The experience (Cox) had led me to believe that the Cape was the place to be for the summer,” McCann said. “The experience the Cape has to offer was just something for the betterment of my future and my personal success as a player.”
McCann said he called Roberts before the Razorbacks made their postseason run to the NCAA Super Regionals to commit to Cotuit for the entire summer. Brief Cotuit teammates Zach Cone (Georgia) and C.J. Cron (Utah) chose the Team USA option and left the Kettleers during the first week of July. If they do not make the team, they may return to the Cape.
“Growing up, it was something I always heard of, the best college players going to play (on the Cape),” McCann said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
The 31st round pick of the Chicago White Sox out of high school batted .286 with nine home runs in 59 games this spring, helping the Razorbacks reach the Super Regionals for a second straight year. He gunned down 30 of 39 potential base stealers and backstopped a pitching staff which finished with the third lowest team earned run average in the Southeastern Conference.
“The chemistry among the pitchers and with me as the catcher, being able to work together, was a huge key,” McCann said. “Trust and hard work will take you a long way.”
McCann hopes to improve his consistency with the wood bat on the Cape while facing quality pitching every night. As of Saturday, he had just two hits in 24 at-bats. His first went for a home run.
“I’ve been working with Coach Roberts quite a bit, just trying to get comfortable with that wood bat and get my swing back,” McCann said.
Roberts trusts McCann to call his own games behind the plate, something McCann did in high school and during his second season with the Razorbacks.
“It’s that confidence factor within each other,” McCann said. “No matter how good a coach is, they can’t be on the field. It allows for pitcher and catcher to create that relationship.”
McCann grew up in Southern California before being courted by Arkansas. He started 35 games as a freshman and appeared in 49. He also started four College World Series games.
“I knew I had a chance to go in there and play as a freshman and I took it as a goal and was determined to become the starting guy,” McCann said. “Growing up on the West Coast, it was kind of surprising to hear Arkansas recruiting me, but when I went there I fell in love with the place. Playing in the SEC, playing with those facilities, that number of fans, it’s an unbelievable atmosphere there.”
Out of his catcher’s gear, McCann is active in community service. He was named to the 2010 SEC Community Service Team for his participation in Arkansas’ Sweat Hawgs and Book Hogs programs, which place Razorbacks athletes in local elementary schools to assist with reading lessons and physical education classes.
“I’ve always been involved in my community in one way or another, so I guess it was nice to get recognition for what I’ve done,” McCann said. “At the same time, I enjoy what I do, working with kids throughout the community, and it’s something that I’ll continue to do.”
McCann was listed on the SEC Academic Honor Roll this year to follow his Freshman Academic Honor Roll selection. To be eligible, student-athletes must maintain a cumulative grade point average above 3.00 or for consecutive semesters.
“Not many people really understand what it takes to be a student-athlete at the collegiate level,” McCann said. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but I enjoy every minute of it.”