LYNCHBURG - Shawn McGill isn't one of the Atlanta Braves top prospects but with the respect he has within the Hillcats' clubhouse you might think he is. It is rare to see a 29-year-old at the Advanced-A level of minor league baseball but McGill continues to play for a simple reason. "Just the desire to play baseball every day and still have a job and an opportunity to go out there and catch and be with the guys and further my career," he said during a pregame interview last week.
McGill, originally from Rhode Island, has seen his fair share of the country. He was recruited to Boston College by former Virginia Tech head coach Pete Hughes and began his college career in 2002. He was then drafted by the Phillies in 2006 in the 23rd round. After two years with them he was released before playing for the Lincoln Salt Dogs in Nebraska - an American Association independent league team. After that he was signed by the Braves in 2010 and since then he's gone back and forth between Mississippi, Gwinnett, Ga. and his current team in Lynchburg, Va.
"At times it can be exhausting bouncing around from team to team. I would prefer to be at one level with one group of guys so you could get that camaraderie," he said.
His teammate Jarrett Miller added, "Absolutely I feel bad for him because he doesn't belong here. His talent level exceeds High-A and so do I like him here? Yeah. He spoils us but he's most definitely a Double-A, Triple-A, big league guy."
He's also a father. He has two children under the age of two - a daughter Lyla and a son Shawn - with his wife Caitlin. "He's a dad off the field. If he has a bad game he isn't taking it back home. Everything stays on the field for him," Miller said.
The family has made the relocations over the summers with McGill but currently the children and Caitlin are in Rhode Island.
Back in Lynchburg, McGill, who is hitting .288 with one home run, and 18 RBIs since joining the Hillcats, is doing everything he can to make the team and the pitching staff better. "Controlling the pitching staff and [gaining] their confidence - that means the most to me. Blocking balls, receiving, guys really want a polished catcher back there," he said.
"With Shawn behind the plate, all the pitchers, including myself, are confident in any pitch that we throw. If he holds [the sign down with his fingers], we throw it. We hardly ever shake it off," Miller explained.
That's because McGill knows hitters, knows their tendencies, and can read batters' stances. "He knows these things because he's been to Double-A and Triple-A and that's what those guys do," Miller said.
Hitting coach John Moses said McGill also has a good arm and knows how to take control of the infield. "We knew he was going to do a good job. He was going to help the younger players, the younger catchers, and do what he's asked and go out and play hard every day," he said.
Another reason he plays hard is because he knows his extended family, although living nearly 600 miles away, still supports his career. One reason he hasn't changed his walk-up song by The Dropkick Murphys since he first arrived in Lynchburg in 2011 is because of his grandparents. "[They] still listen to the games sometimes. My grandmother came over on the boat [from Ireland] and she likes hearing the bagpipes. When she hears the bagpipes she knows I'm coming up to the plate."
Ideally McGill would like to land a permanent spot in Double-A or Triple-A in the future but he knows he can't play forever. "It's a tough subject because obviously the door is going to close. At some point you're either going to get released or retire on your own."
For now he doesn't see that day coming any time soon. When he does hang up the cleats, he said he could get into coaching. He does have an economics degree from Boston College. He could something in financing. He also has his real estate license and uses that in the offseason. "There's still a lot of questions marks but today I got a baseball game and I'm getting paid to do it. I'm very lucky."
Something a lot of us would sign up for in a heartbeat.