Garrison McLagan takes unusual route to college baseball

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 | 9:59 p.m. CDT; updated 3:23 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Garrison McLagan practices pitching at Balls-N-Strikes with his father and brother. Next season, he hopes to play for the University of Missouri.

COLUMBIA— Seventeen-year-old Garrison McLagan swings and smashes balls off the metal wall, making a loud bang that echoes throughout the Balls-N-Strikes training complex in Columbia.

The sound made when the ball comes off his bat is good. The swing looks flawless as Raymond McLagan, Garrison McLagan’s 14-year-old brother, stands off to the side watching.

MU coaches hope that swing turns Garrison McLagan into a premier college player in the next few years because he has committed to play for the Tigers.

Raymond McLagan is his brother’s catcher when Garrison McLagan throws fastballs in the high 80s that jam his younger brother’s thumb when he is forced to catch it inside.

“On low-and-inside pitches, it happens every time,” Raymond McLagan said. “Last summer I was really bruised up.”

Unlike most high-school-aged kids in Columbia, the McLagans don’t attend Rock Bridge or Hickman. The brothers attend Christian Fellowship School, which doesn’t field a baseball team. While others are getting in their first games of the year, they stick to a strict workout schedule laid out by their dad and coaches. This summer, for the second-consecutive year, Garrison McLagan will get to play at Taylor Stadium in Columbia for his club team on June 26-29.

“We do as much as we can since we’re not playing high school ball,” Garrison McLagan said. “Some of my best friends have never seen me play.”

While their teammates on their St. Louis-based Rawlings Prospects club team play for their respective high schools, the McLagan brothers are limited to practicing with each other.

“I wish he could play high school baseball,” said Lonnie Maclin, the McLagan’s hitting coach.

The McLagan’s aren’t your typical ball players either. Next season, Garrison McLagan will play for MU when he would be a senior in high school. He’s going to graduate a semester early in December from Christian Fellowship School to enroll at Mizzou for winter semester and join the Tigers for their spring season.

“Hitting-wise, he’s ready to go to the next level,” Maclin said. “He could go play professional baseball. He has good speed, great defense. He’s what you look for in a pro baseball player.

“I’d take him in the eighth or ninth round right now.”

So why didn’t Garrison McLagan just transfer to a public school like most of the athletes at Christian Fellowship?

“I prayed about it a lot,” Garrison McLagan said. “My parents left it up to me to decide whatever I wanted to do.

“About a month before school, God told me to go to Christian Fellowship.”

Looking back on his decision, Garrison McLagan doesn’t regret missing out on playing high school baseball.

“Staying at CFS is the best decision I’ve made,” Garrison McLagan said. “I’m really at peace about it.”

While Garrison McLagan is happy with his decision not to play high school baseball, his brother is forced to make the decision in the next few months.

“I think about it definitely every day. I think about it a lot,” Raymond McLagan said, referring to whether he will stay at Christian Fellowship or transfer schools.

Baseball is everywhere in Garrison McLagan’s bedroom, at least in the places that pictures of his girlfriend aren’t covering. Trophies overtake one of the corners of his room and above his bed are two certificates for being selected a Baseball Select All-American as a 13-and 14-year-old.

On his desk sits a stack of letters that come in every week. Half of them are from LSU, some from UCLA, others from national recruiting services asking him to attend a camp where all 30 Major League Baseball teams will be represented. Garrison practices his autograph on the envelopes.

“The UCLA one really surprised me but it didn’t change my mind,” Garrison said while his brother let the letters U-C-L-A roll off his tongue with a grin.

But the handwritten letter from UCLA wasn’t the first time that Garrison McLagan realized that he could take his game to the next level. That came when he received an email from MU pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, Tony Vitello. The email is tacked on his bulletin board next to a picture of Alex Rodriguez and more pictures of his girlfriend.

“That’s the first time I really thought about playing college baseball,” Garrison McLagan said.

That’s the reason Garrison McLagan forces himself to get up at 6:30 every morning to lift weights. Even though the McLagans live across the street from Christian Fellowship, he is often late for class. Mornings are not his friend, yet he still forces himself up that early because he knows a year from now, he’s going to be competing against players as much as five years older and a year before he’s supposed to be playing against them.

“He’s ready to go up against the college kids,” Maclin said.

While practicing, the McLagans help each other. When Garrison McLagan throws a bad curveball, then a good one on the next pitch, he asks why that one was different.

“You came more across your body,” his brother said.

Garrison McLagan doesn’t plan on only hitting in college, he also wants to pitch. That’s why when his younger brother took up catching, his pitching improved because his brother helps him every day.

“The other day in long-toss he noticed I was dropping my arm,” Garrison McLagan said. “I didn’t even realize I was doing it until he told me then I fixed it.”

When Raymond McLagan is hitting in the cage, his brother gives him words of encouragement. While the ball doesn’t fly off Raymond McLagan’s bat like his older brother, he goes through the same routine that his brother goes through and is improving.

“Raymond works a lot harder than Garrison did at his age,” their father Gary McLagan said.

Improvement can be seen in the fact that for the first time in his life, Garrison McLagan has a catcher he can work with every day of the week if he wishes. A year ago, Raymond McLagan couldn’t catch his brother’s fastball and his sharp breaking curve ball. Now, when Garrison McLagan has his pitching sessions twice a week, the brothers work as team. Garrison McLagan flips his glove or the ball a certain way to indicate which pitch is coming to Raymond.

“I really wish he was on my team during the summer,” Garrison McLagan said.

As Garrison McLagan’s last spring without playing baseball games comes to an end, he looks forward to playing for Mizzou next season and the end of only practice in spring. He’s proud of his decision to skip high school baseball. His faith in God is present when he steps into the batter’s box. Garrison has Phil: 4:13 written in black sharpie on the inside of his batting glove.

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength,” the Bible verse says.

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