By Nick Solari, Intern Writer, Quinnipiac University
June 20, 2013
Not every teenager is given an opportunity like the one Kettleers’ assistant coach Trey McCall had. McCall, a then-standout catcher at Abingdon High School in Virginia, sat atop head coach Mike Roberts’ recruit list at the University of North Carolina for the 1986 season.
Former 19-year big league catcher, corner outfielder, and third basemen B.J. Surhoff was a part of Roberts’ UNC squad at the time. Surhoff was on the fast track to the majors. He would end up accumulating 2,326 hits for a career average of .282 in the majors with the Milwakee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, and Atlanta Braves from 1987-2005.
In anticipation of Surhoff being drafted after the season, Roberts knew he needed to find a catcher like McCall.
“I grew up in East Tennessee and he grew up in South West Virginia, so I became very familiar with him as a young player,” coach Roberts said. “Being a catcher, I always had a love for good ones. All of a sudden he blossomed into an outstanding player who we really wanted at the time.”
Roberts followed McCall closely during the power-hitting backstop’s senior season. Looking to build on the elite roster he already had in place, the UNC head coach brought McCall to the campus in an effort to try and convince him to attend.
“I can remember my visit to Chapel Hill,” McCall said. “They had a Beautiful campus, and Coach (Roberts) had a great baseball program at the time.”
In fact, Coach Roberts’ program impressed McCall so much that he planned on attending in the fall.
“It was bigger than you, and you wanted to be a part of it. That’s what I remember most,” McCall said.
Then came the unexpected opportunity.
McCall was taken 16th overall in the first round of the 1985 MLB amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Surhoff, as expected, was taken with the first pick by Milwaukee, leaving a void in Roberts’ lineup that McCall was penciled in to fill.
“There were two parts to the situation,” McCall explained. “The Phillies came and met with my family and I once I was drafted, and I declined originally. I was really looking forward to playing for Coach (Roberts), and I had my heart set on going to school.”
However, the major league club was intent on landing their first-rounder. McCall was flown out to Philadelphia and ultimately convinced to sign.
His dreams of being a professional baseball player were about to become a reality. Still, McCall was saddened with the fact that he was letting down the man whom had treated him well and given him an opportunity: Coach Roberts.
“It was a very tough decision,” McCall said. “I can still remember sitting in my house talking to him on the phone. I felt awful. Even though I was embarking on something great I felt bad about it.”
Roberts knew it was an opportunity McCall couldn’t pass.
“I was disappointed, but happy for him at the same time,” Roberts said. “He made a good decision, and was just a class young man the whole time.”
Time went by and McCall spent four and a half seasons in the Phillies minor-league organization. He was invited to the team’s major league camp in 1988, but did not make the final roster.
He then went back to school. Fulfilling his original desires to receive a college education, he attended Emory and Henry College and got a BA in business. McCall proceeded to get a Masters in PE from Tennessee.
“He did it the right way,” Coach Roberts said. “He went back and got his education, which is the most important thing. I was incredibly happy to hear that.”
In 2005, McCall became the first full-time head coach for the baseball team at Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia.
Under McCall, the Wasps enjoyed a breakout season in 2012. Tying for third in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference after being picked to finish 10th, McCall led E&H to its first ODAC Tournament appearance since 1999 and saw four players named all-conference. This success earned him ODAC Coach of the Year honors.
Then came another special opportunity.
“A few years ago I saw him (Roberts) in Dallas, Texas,” McCall said. “He was doing a presentation for his book.”
McCall went to Roberts, and again told him how grateful he was years later.
“He’s so easy to get along with,” Roberts said. “One of the first things Trey said to me was ‘Coach, I just want you to know how much I appreciated the opportunity.’ I was very impressed with that.”
Roberts had since become the head coach of the Cotuit Kettleers, enjoying life as a manager in the most prestigious amateur summer baseball league. McCall inquired about life on the Cape, and told Roberts to contact him if he needed another assistant.
The two then saw each other again this winter in Chicago, and McCall again expressed his desire to help Roberts out in Cotuit this summer.
“He was proactive with it, and proactive again this winter when I saw him in Chicago, so we made it happen,” Roberts said. “He was willing to make some sacrifices to be here in Cotuit with the team, and I really appreciate that.”
One of those sacrifices for McCall was spending time away from his family. He currently resides in Abingdon, VA, with wife Laura and two daughters, Katherine and Elizabeth.
“My wife is very gracious,” McCall said. “Being gone for 10 or 11 weeks isn’t easy. Her and my two children are coming to visit for three weeks, but it’s still a lot to put on my family.”
McCall says his family, his wife in particular, are very supportive of him coming here.
“I’m in Cotuit, Mass. for the summer coaching baseball, and this is unbelievable,” McCall said. “The volunteers, and all the people around here are great. My wife can tell that this is something that is once in a lifetime.”
Coach Roberts is happy to have McCall on the staff for this season. He knows exactly what the 46-year-old assistant brings to Cotuit.
“He brings maturity,” Roberts said. “You’re always looking for really mature, clean-cut coaches to set the right example for guys, and he does that.”
Due to the fact that he was a first-round pick, McCall also garners respect.
“They look at me and see a round-44 draft choice and say ‘what do you know,’ then they look at him and see a 1st rounder, and they don’t even have to ask,” Roberts said. “He’s got something all of us would like.”
To this day, Roberts wouldn’t change anything about what happened 28 years ago.
“It was just two country boys trying to talk and work with one another,” Roberts joked two days before the Kettleers season opener. “It was just a great experience.”
McCall, meanwhile, understands the opportunity Roberts has once again given him.
“There is a lot I can take from Coach Roberts in terms of running the bases, and how he treats his players during practice,” McCall said. “Those kinds of things will make me a better coach and a better person.”
Though he is currently looking forward to helping the whole Cotuit community and the Kettleers this season, McCall can’t help but reflect on what it means to be reunited specifically with Roberts.
“I finally get to put on the same uniform as coach Roberts,” McCall said. “This is my education that I missed in Chapel Hill.”