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Thunderbolts Insider: McGuckin quit job to pursue baseball dream

Windy City catcher Mike McGucksteps out box take sign from third base coach as Thunderbolts host Joliet Slammers July 26

Windy City catcher Mike McGuckin steps out of the box to take the sign from the third base coach as the Thunderbolts host the Joliet Slammers, July 26, 2014.| Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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After finishing his career at Ramapo College in New Jersey in 2010 and playing a season in the Arizona Winter League in 2011, Mike McGuckin was done with baseball.

“I didn’t pick up a bat or ball for 2½ years after that,” said McGuckin, a catcher for the Windy City ThunderBolts.

The New Jersey native settled down in his home state and began a normal life. Until he began to feel the pull of baseball once again.

“I’ve been a union carpenter for the past couple years,” he said. “One day I was just sitting there building a whole room by myself and I started thinking about how I missed the game. My brother (Thomas) was going to a tryout in Florence, Kentucky for the Frontier League and I just decided I wanted to go with.

“I took my belt off, went to my foreman and told him I wanted to play baseball. He just said good luck and I went out to Kentucky.”

McGuckin made the trip to Florence for the league’s tryout camp and subsequent draft in April. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off.

“The whole journey in general was pretty crazy,” he said. “I just went out there to see if I still had it. It was rough. It was an emotional and mental struggle. Throwing, especially, was hard to get back. When I got picked up, I was really shocked. My heart was racing and everything. It was a fun experience.”

The T-Bolts drafted McGuckin in the first round of the Frontier League draft.

“We liked what he brought to the table as a solid defensive catcher,” T-Bolts manager Ron Biga said. “Obviously when you go so long without playing, we knew he had room to develop and get better.”

Still, Windy City went into spring training with four catchers and McGuckin was a longshot to make the team. He had been told he’d stick around as the team’s bullpen catcher if he didn’t make the roster, but a strong spring training meant his improbable journey to professional baseball would continue.

Entering the weekend, McGuckin had played in 22 games, hitting .169 and playing solid defense behind the plate. The backup catcher most of the season, his playing time has increased greatly since Doug Joyce was released July 17.

McGuckin’s biggest professional hit so far came Friday night when he delivered a go-ahead two-out, two-run double against Joliet.

“It’s been a dream,” he said. “Getting to play baseball as a job is a dream a lot of people would love to get a chance to do. Everyone’s been awesome to be around. It’s been more than I expected.

“I had my mind set that I was done and then I saw my little brother working out all the time and I started missing it. You always want to go back. This is where I’m truly the most happy is baseball.”



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