Does 'American Idol' star have pitch?

McCreery returns to Garner's baseball team after yearlong absence

tstevens@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2012 

The coach of the most famous high school baseball player in the country doesn't know how many spectators to expect at games this season. Or whether those who come will be more interested in baseball or celebrity. He knows this: Other teams might be better, but none has more star power.

Scotty McCreery, the winner of last season's "American Idol" singing competition, is a member of the Garner baseball team, as several million Scotty fans know from watching the television show.

McCreery, who often wore a Garner T-shirt on "Idol," has told Garner coach Derek Goffena that he doesn't want to be a distraction for the baseball team, which could contend for a playoff spot this season. He has wanted to play for the Garner team ever since he was a little leaguer but the team's success takes priority.

"That's really important to me," McCreery said Saturday from Springfield, Mo., where he was touring with Brad Paisley. "I'm in an adult world now, but I want to be able to play baseball with my friends. I still want to have a senior year in high school and play some baseball. It's something I've always wanted to do."

McCreery hasn't pitched in a game since the summer of 2010. He threw some with his dad on Saturday and said he was about 55 to 60 percent of where he wants to be.

"I've got work to do," he said. "But I think it will come back when I can get home and practice every day instead of one day a week or so."

McCreery likely will be used as a relief pitcher initially so there is no way for Goffena to predict when McCreery will play. McCreery and Goffena don't envision McCreery playing soon, though.

"I'll be there Tuesday, but I don't think I'll get to play," McCreery said of Garner's home opener at 4 p.m. against Broughton. "I will be there pulling for the guys, supporting the team."

Goffena doesn't have any idea of how many fans will turn out in the hopes of seeing McCreery warm up before games, but school officials don't expect any problems.

"We really aren't expecting any serious issues regarding crowd control or spectators, due in large part to the fact that we haven't had any problems at school or school activities to this point," said Drew Cook, the Garner High principal. "If more people want to come out and see our baseball games because Scotty's playing, then that's not a bad problem to have.

"If the crowd is larger or more aggressive than we expect, then we'll adjust our plans and the level of supervision accordingly. Scotty's attended many events with large crowds this year - basketball games, football games, and even chorus performances - without any incidents at all."

Just another guy

Toward the end of the "Idol" television season, thousands of fans filled Garner's Lake Benson Park for his homecoming concert and thousands more attended his birthday celebration.

But for the most part, he has attended Garner football and basketball games as a spectator without drawing much attention and he walks the halls of the school just as he did before he used it during the filming of his video "The Trouble With Girls."

"It surprised me on the first day," McCreery said. "Almost everywhere I go someone wants to take a picture or talk to me, but at the high school I'm just another guy with a backpack who wears jeans and a T-shirt. At school, it is just like I never left."

Garner athletics director Dwight Harrell said he has been amazed at how little fanfare McCreery provokes at school.

"He's just a regular Joe walking to his classes," Harrell said. "People in Garner basically are allowing Scotty to be a regular high school student."

Cook said McCreery has made it plain that he doesn't want preferential treatment.

"Everyone has really been respectful of the fact that Scotty just wants to blend in and be a normal high school student - to the extent that that's possible given the life that he is living," Cook said "If he wasn't the humble, easy-going kid that he is, students might have had a different reaction. But the positive, down-to-earth image that you see portrayed in the media is exactly what we see here every day."

Pitching prospects

No one knows how good a pitcher McCreery will be in his only varsity season. McCreery played for the junior varsity team as a sophomore and with the Garner summer league team 18 months ago.

He was a member of the 2011 varsity team, but never got to go to a game. When Goffena selected last year's team no one knew that McCreery would spend the entire season on the show.

Since winning the title, McCreery has filled arenas and auditoriums around the country and has been a regular on national television programs. He is wrapping up the tour with Paisley and is looking forward to getting to practice and being with his teammates.

But McCreery has missed off-season workouts with his teammates and some spring practices.

"To be honest, Scotty hasn't had much of a chance to show what he's got," Goffena said. "He has work to do. I've talked to Scotty about it and he agrees. He doesn't need to go out there and pitch unless he is ready."

"He knows that people are watching," Harrell said. "I asked him what he is going to do when somebody smacks a home run and people start singing 'I Love You This Big,' (one of McCreery's most popular songs).

"Scotty just grinned. He knows that some people are probably going to ride him."

McCreery said that yelling at the pitcher is just a part of baseball. He is expecting it.

"I really think that the batters are going to try a little harder when I'm pitching," he said. "That could be to my advantage or it could make it tougher if they are really focused. We'll see."

The Trojans open their season at home Tuesday against Broughton at 4 p.m., and play at Middle Creek (4:15 p.m.) on Thursday and at Broughton (4 p.m.) Friday.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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