Shortly after he signed the only baseball contract he’s ever had with a team not named the St. Louis Cardinals, the right-handed reliever who wears that recognizable red beard searched the Texas Rangers’ schedule until his eyes found a three-game series in late June.
“I saw that I was going to have a chance to come back home,” McClellan told FOXSportsMidwest.com on Wednesday. “To be home, to stay at my house, see my family and, on top of that, come back and see teammates, the staff and all the people that made my time there so enjoyable, it’s always going to be exciting.”
Even more exciting if there could be a special touch, a chance to introduce his new Texas teammates to his favorite barbecue.
“I talked to Jerry, in the visiting clubhouse, to see if we could get Pappy’s one day,” McClellan confessed.
The request for a Pappy’s Smokehouse spread, filed to Jerry Risch, the longtime manager of the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium, came late this week.
First, McClellan, 29, had to be certain he would make the trip.
He just recently joined the Rangers, navigating his way back to the major leagues after another frustrating setback. He had signed a minor league contract with Texas, but performed well enough in spring training to cause a bit of a stir. A back strain snuffed his progress and sent him to the minors for what turned out to be most of this season. But on June 9, the Rangers brought McClellan up. Since then, he has taken the mound in six games and thrown 8 1/3 innings. He has surrendered six hits and six runs and carries a 6.48 ERA.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the major league game, up until this point, and I’m making those adjustments,” McClellan said. “But they’re giving me opportunities, and they believe in me and know my track record speaks for itself.”
That track record was created with the Cardinals, the team McClellan, a Hazelwood West High School graduate, signed a contract with as a 25th-round draft pick the same year he turned old enough to buy lottery tickets. He debuted in the major leagues in 2008, and went 19-23 with a 3.69 ERA in 261 appearances, racking up hold after hold in his late reliever role. In 2011, he became a starter, and compiled a 6-6 record. But in 2012, McClellan battled shoulder and elbow problems that limited him to 16 games. He had season-ending shoulder surgery in July of that year, and the Cardinals decided to release him.
“I know that was his goal, to get back to the big leagues,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Thursday. “We just weren’t in a position to keep trying with him. So, unfortunately, that relationship ended. But I’m happy to see he is doing well.”
Baseball is a business. Especially when it comes to relievers.
“Not many get to stay in one place for their whole career,” said Cardinals left-handed specialist Randy Choate, who is now on his seventh team. “Relievers are in demand, and they switch teams a lot.”
“There are no hard feelings on my end, and I certainly hope not on their end,” he said. “I don’t think there are. It was just time to move on. I am always going to cherish that time, and know that is the organization that gave me the opportunity for my dream to come true.”
Even as luggage filled with the Rangers’ baseball equipment was carried into Busch Stadium as Thursday night turned into Friday morning, the Texas pitching staff was changing. The team had announced Thursday evening that it had recalled starter Martin Perez from Triple A. A corresponding move is expected, and it is still possible McClellan could be affected.
Regardless, there will be time for fun Friday. McClellan will seek out familiar faces, whether it be the ushers he knows by name, or the Cardinals who are opponents now, but still friends.
“He was a very important part of our team for many years,” Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright said. “He and his wife, Bridget, are close friends of my wife and I. We are definitely looking forward to seeing him.”
As McClellan makes his rounds, he will surely run into Risch. The visiting clubhouse manager won’t keep him long. He’s had this job for 48 years now, and he knows how busy the first game back as a former Cardinal can be.
“His time is going to be spoken for,” Risch said. “People are going to be looking for him. I’ll see how he’s doing, see how is wife and baby are doing, just check. If he has time to talk, I’ll talk. But I know he’s going to be pulled in 10 different directions.”
Risch already completed his welcoming gesture anyway. Thanks to him, McClellan and the Rangers will eat Pappy’s on Friday. Risch made sure of that.
“You’re covered,” he told McClellan when he asked for the favor. “Don’t even worry about it.”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.