ECU's McDonald enjoys early success

By Nathan Summers

Greenville (Daily) Reflector

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One of the bigger transitions in Chase McDonald’s life has been remarkably smooth, at least so far.

The former East Carolina and J.H. Rose baseball player who recently opted to turn pro has moved from Greenville to Greeneville, Tenn., so that has been pretty easy. And since reporting to the Houston Astros Rookie League affiliate last week, baseball also is looking easy for McDonald.

In his first few days with the Greeneville Astros, he already has blasted a couple of home runs and is batting cleanup despite being one of the younger players on the Appalachian League team.

“I got my first hit in my first at-bat, and that was a great weight to get off my shoulders,” McDonald said on Wednesday, fresh from the batting cage and prior to a game at Princeton, Tampa Bay’s rookie affiliate. “Since then, things have been going really well.”

McDonald was drafted in the 12th round on June 8 but did not come to terms with the Houston club until late June.

During the lapse, he kept his swing polished with the Morehead City Marlins, the Coastal Plain League club he spent nearly a month playing for until negotiating what he said was the deal he was hoping for from the Astros.

Although he admits leaving his hometown – where he has been a star since Little League – wasn’t an easy choice, McDonald said the time was right.

“It was a really tough decision to make, leaving East Carolina and the town I grew up playing baseball in, but the decision I made was one I believe I needed to make,” he said. “It was an opportunity that I felt like I needed to take.”

Though he has only been in his new version of Greeneville for a week, McDonald already has earned a few things, including never leaving out the town’s unique middle “E”.

“It’s the only Greeneville in the United States that has an ‘E’ after “Green” and they take it pretty seriously in Greeneville, Tenn.,” he said. “They don’t like it being mixed up.”

Despite the tedious process that consumed the time between draft day and McDonald’s pro debut last Friday night, he has made a seamless transition from his final collegiate season.

Just four games in, McDonald teed off on his first homer as a pro, a solo shot against Kingsport in the second game of a doubleheader, on Sunday.

On Monday night, he tied for the team lead with one more big swing, another solo blast against Kingsport.

The first homer was a leadoff shot. McDonald said he took a first-pitch fastball outside before smashing a hanging changeup out of the park to left field.

The next night, he turned on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball from 6-foot-7 Kingsport pitcher Martires Arias and sent it over the wall.

“I made the adjustment of standing off the plate a little bit more than I did at East Carolina, just to be able to hit the inside fastball easier,” said McDonald, who was batting in the No. 6 hole until his first homer, and has been in the cleanup slot ever since. “(Arias) threw me one 95, middle-in, and I turned on it and hit it a good ways.”

On Tuesday, the early hot streak continued the more conventional way when McDonald laced a couple of base hits and finished 2-for-4 in a loss to Kingsport. It ran his average to .263 and his hit total to five.

McDonald attributes his success to a love of wooden bats and a life spent getting ready to concentrate solely on baseball.

“I’ve always liked swinging wood better than metal because the feeling is so much more pure and there are so many more variables you can have,” said McDonald, who is toting a 34-inch, 32-ounce bat with the Astros. “Baseball is your main focus here. You play over 50 games while you’re here and it’s kind of a laid-back atmosphere. There is no pressure. We want to produce and they’re expecting us to produce, but if we fail, we talk about it and we’re more mental about it.”