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Friday, January 13, 2006

Offseason is no layup for McClung

Offseason is no layup for McClung
Devil Rays hurler working with other athletes during offseason

Seth McClung went 7-11 in his first season back after Tommy John surgery. (Ron Schwane/AP)
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ST. PETERSBURG -- Seth McClung isn't spending his offseason the way he has the past two, but the big redhead is far from taking it easy.

McClung, 24, returned to the Devil Rays' Major League roster in 2005 after spending most of 2004 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in 2003.

With a clean bill of health and his elbow stronger than ever, McClung hasn't had to follow the closely monitored rehab program prescribed by doctors during past offseasons. So McClung had time to coach basketball and to give a little something back to his hometown of Lewisburg, W.Va.

After McClung met University of Tampa women's basketball coach Tom Jessee, one thing led to another, and soon the Rays right-hander was helping out with the team.

"Seth and I are from the same small state of West Virginia," Jessee said. "He was a great basketball player in high school as well as baseball. What's great about having him work with our program is how it shows the young mature players the drive and passion that a pro has even in another sport. He has great knowledge of basketball and brings a lot of drive to make our kids the best they can be.

"It is unbelievable to see a professional willing to work with and give back to the youth so much when you really don't have to. This makes and describes Seth and the type of people where he and I come from. We are excited about having him as part of the team."

Having played basketball since he was 9 years old, McClung loves the game and was a standout at Greenbriar East High School, where he amassed close to 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds during his career.

"I've coached before, but not at this level," McClung said. "This is something I would definitely like to do later in my career. I really enjoy coaching basketball, helping kids. [It] keeps my competitive fire going."

When McClung wasn't helping at the University of Tampa, he was back home in Lewisburg, where he started West Virginia Rush, a program designed to help athletes with exceptional skills improve in their sport.

McClung hopes his efforts will help draw more attention to West Virginia athletics, leading to more athletes feeling like they don't have to leave the state to pursue sports dreams.

McClung's first step for Rush was to start an AAU basketball team that will begin play in February.

"I started getting it together last year," McClung said. "[I] got organized and we waited until this year [to get started] so we could do it right."

McClung pointed out the team has an outstanding coaching staff so that kids in the program will be taught how to play the game correctly and that their team will compete at a higher level than the players on the team are accustomed.

Basketball is the first sport for Rush. But McClung is aiming high and wants to bring in other sports in the future.

In addition to the pluses derived from participating in the program, McClung added: "It will keep kids interested in sports and away from those bad things. [It will] keep them focused on something positive."

While McClung has enjoyed his offseason activities, he can't hide his excitement about the coming baseball season.

McClung ended the season on a high note Sept. 28 against the Indians -- who were still alive in the American League pennant race at the time -- by pitching eight scoreless innings to best Cliff Lee in a 1-0 Rays win.

"I ended with an exclamation point, but I didn't forget the [previous two outings leading up to the Cleveland start] when I wasn't so good," McClung said.

Throughout the 2005 season, McClung usually pitched lights out or got his lights punched out.

There were the dominating performances against Florida, Texas, Toronto and Cleveland when he pitched 30 innings, allowed just 11 hits and two earned runs while striking out 20. Conversely, he had four starts where he couldn't complete three innings.

"When I pitched against the Cleveland Indians [in my final start], that showed me how [good] I can be," said McClung, who recognized his inconsistency in 2005. "I think with the consistency of my elbow, I'll lean to the better side [of my performances]."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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