Athlete Spotlight: Chris McGee

By Jason Klaiber

Managing Editor for Promotions

Hard work and unshakable dedication. These are two things that Jamesville-DeWitt High School senior Chris McGee exhibits in his everyday life.

“My parents bought me a bat and basically it all just clicked,” says McGee, referring to the start of his baseball career. Ever since he began at the Little League level when he was 5, McGee has built up a passion for the game of baseball and has reached prominence in the baseball community. A star member of the J-DHS Varsity Baseball team, his skills have attracted attention from fans, competitors and college scouts alike. As a result, a bright opportunity has opened its doors to McGee. Binghamton University, located in Vestal, New York, found great promise in McGee’s future and offered him an athletic scholarship to play Division-I baseball.

SUNY Binghamton has been in the recruiting process with McGee since he visited a camp there in June 2012. At the Binghamton baseball camp, McGee was a standout performer. He believes that he played exceptionally well at the camp and seemed to be a cut above the rest in the talent department. Binghamton contacted McGee soon afterward and expressed that they wanted him “to stay on their radar.”

Ever since, he has done just that. McGee made his unofficial visit in August of this year. “I fell in love with the coaches, the campus, the team, the facilities, and the education I’m going to receive there,” says McGee; “All in all, that’s what drew me to Binghamton and that’s why I committed there.” He admits that the university “felt like home.” The scholarship opportunity was also a significant factor in the decision. “My dad paid so much money in the summer for me to play and I knew it was all to get a scholarship to play at the next level,” he says.

McGee plays on the Syracuse Sportszone Academy Braves Red during the summertime. This travel team brings in top-notch players from all over Central New York to participate in out-of-state tournaments. McGee and his travel team have ventured out to places such as New Jersey, Long Island, Pennsylvania and Georgia. McGee sees the travel team as a good experience because he competes against high-caliber teams and has fun with his teammates. He adds that traveling around to different cities and states helps in meeting new people and allows him to play against athletes that he’ll potentially see at the college level. “In the summer, there's better competition and the better you play in the summer, the greater chance you have in getting recruited,” says McGee.

McGee claims that the scholarship will certainly make the tuition more affordable for his family. “The scholarship I received is really rewarding and it shows that I worked really hard and it helps me and my family,” says McGee. He is being presented with a quarter-scholarship which will increase as he continues through his time at Binghamton. McGee hopes to eventually be awarded a half-scholarship. He is receiving a starting value of $8,000 in athletic money.

McGee says that his family is looking forward to his first year at Binghamton, and that they were pleased with the campus, the coaches, and the overall impression the university made. McGee added that his parents like the fact that the university is only an hour away, which allows them to travel to every home game without much of a hassle. Also, most of the competition is located close by with the exception of Auburn University in Alabama, which is scheduled in the spring of 2015 as McGee’s debut game in a Binghamton Bearcat uniform.

Binghamton University is respected as an academic institution as well, a reputation that further attracted McGee. “I haven’t figured out what I want to study yet,” he says, “but I might go into communications or possibly education and become a teacher or guidance counselor.” No matter what he decides, he wants to enter a career path in which he can help children.

McGee’s coaches and teammates have also noted McGee’s commitment to Binghamton. Ryan Dera, the head coach of the J-DHS Varsity Baseball team and a former Division-I baseball player at Elon University in North Carolina, says, “(the scholarship) is a great opportunity for Chris and I’m extremely excited for him.” Coach Dera considers receiving a scholarship in baseball one of the toughest scholarships to achieve in collegiate athletics. “Each Division-I baseball team is allowed only 11.7 scholarships per team,” he says; “A team is comprised of 35 players so only the true top prospects receive a scholarship.” He labels McGee as a “true Division-I prospect.” Assistant coach Mike Klemperer, who played Division-III baseball at the University of Rochester, says that the scholarship is “very exciting” for McGee as well as the entire J-D baseball program. “It takes an incredible amount of talent, commitment, and work ethic to be a Division-I athlete, and Chris has all of those things,” he says. “We’re all very proud of him and have seen him grow as a player over the last two years on varsity.” Coach Klemperer says that since lacrosse has become such a “hotbed” in the northeast, baseball can be overlooked in comparison. Nonetheless, such college-level prospects as McGee have lifted the reputation of the local baseball program. “There have been a lot of great players to come out of our area lately,” Coach Klemperer notes, “and the better these kids do at the next level, the more respect our baseball program gains.”

Junior right fielder/second baseman Xander Ferlenda also believes that McGee’s success is good for the J-D baseball program and the community as a whole. He also says that McGee worked hard to reach success and deserves what Binghamton offered him. “All his hard work paid off and he deserves (his success),” says senior John Werbowsky, the team’s first baseman. Additionally, senior outfielder Chris Wood points to McGee’s Binghamton scholarship as evidence of “what a great player he is.”

Having played Division-I and Division-III, respectively, Coach Dera and Coach Klemperer both experienced the world of college baseball firsthand. “The transition from high school to college is huge,” says Coach Dera, “especially at the Division-I level.” He says that in contrast to approximately 70-mph pitches typically seen in high school baseball, the average Division-I college pitcher will throw in the high 80s. “That is a big adjustment but I have all the confidence in the world that Chris will be able to adjust and be a successful collegiate player,” says Coach Dera; “Through our practices and our style of baseball here at J-D, I feel that we have prepared him for the next level.” Since Coach Dera is formerly a professional scout with the Kansas City Royals, he says that he has been able to inform McGee of what scouts and college coaches are looking for on and off the field.

“The biggest similarity is that Chris will be playing the same game in college as he played in Little League as a kid,” says Coach Klemperer; “Baseball is still baseball no matter what level.” He said that in both high school and college baseball, a player always needs to be prepared to be challenged mentally at every moment. Coach Klemperer says, however, that “the speed of the game will be a lot faster” and the competition for playing time will be “very intense” due to the fact that everyone on the Binghamton team will have been a star on their high school team. He also notes that the time commitment is far greater than what is seen in high school, with players shuffling between fall ball, regimented workouts, traveling, meals, and a wide variety of other things. “If you don’t truly love the game, it’s hard to put in that much time,” says Coach Klemperer, “but from what I’ve seen from Chris, he loves playing baseball and will do well at the next level.” Coach Klemperer recalls his own connection with college baseball and says that it opened doors for him and exposed him to different kinds of experiences and relationships than he would have had otherwise. “There is something special about being a part of a team,” says Coach Klemperer, “especially when everyone around you loves playing the sport. You form a special bond with the people you spend so much time with at games, practices and on the road.”

McGee’s younger brother, Dylan, a sophomore and catcher on the team, witnessed Chris grow up around the game of baseball, from playing in the backyard to being involved in Little League, modified baseball, travel ball, year-round practices, the junior varsity team and eventually the varsity baseball team that they both currently play for. Dylan claims that all the work that Chris has put in “made him the player he is now.” “I think Chris has worked hard at achieving his goals and it’s finally paying off,” Dylan says; “He’s really getting recognized for his talents. I think (Binghamton) was the right choice for him and he’ll do great things there.” Even though he expects Chris will need time to adjust to playing at the Division-I college level, Dylan is sure that Chris will adapt quickly with the team and make use of his time at Binghamton.

Needless to say, baseball has become a central part of Chris McGee’s life. “I’m even focused on baseball for most of my off-season, along with school work, of course,” says McGee. His work ethic is demonstrated by his dedication to baseball. During the current off-season, McGee has consistently practiced hitting left-handed in order to become a switch hitter by the time next season rolls around. Besides excelling in hitting, McGee has been a starting shortstop and pitcher. However, his upcoming senior season will see him playing at center field, the position he’ll also be playing at Binghamton.

The game has taught McGee certain values. He has learned throughout the years that “teamwork is key.” He has also built up life skills such as proper communication and leadership. “I’d call myself a leader,” says McGee; “I feel like I’m loud on the field and I get everyone in the right mindset to play. I like to support the team when we’re down.”

McGee’s leadership has constructed a solid connection with his teammates as well. “I have good relationships with all of them,” he says; “They’re awesome and they’re my teammates, so I take pride in that.” Ferlenda says “he’s pretty much now a captain since our seniors graduated last year.” He added that he’s a “leader figure” on the team. Senior infielder Tom Canfield says that McGee is a “quiet but good” leader for the team. “He leads by example, he doesn’t get in trouble, he works hard, and he accepts his losses but wins gracefully,” says Canfield. Wood says that McGee expects his team to put in full effort in order to get the job done, but he remains “encouraging.” Wood praises McGee’s leadership skills, saying he leads by example. Coach Klemperer agrees with Wood and says that McGee has led by example on the baseball field throughout the past two seasons. He expects McGee to also be more of a vocal presence in the dugout this season considering he’ll be a senior and thus will be seen as a team leader. “Chris is a true leader and competitor,” says Coach Dera; “He’s the type of player that wants the ball at the end of the game in a crucial situation. He is absolutely fearless and has confidence in his abilities.”

McGee’s teammates and coaches see his athletic abilities and work ethic as central factors in shaping the team’s success as well as his own. “Since the third grade, he’s been one of the best players at J-D in the baseball program,” says Wood; “For the past few years, he’s really evolved into a great player and an all-around athlete.” He also remarks that McGee has the ability to play any position on the baseball field and can do “whatever you want him to do,” ranging from pitching and fielding to hitting. “When it comes down to it,” says Wood, “he can work really hard and get stuff done for the team.” Werbowsky says that McGee is “the most consistent hitter” the team has, and he acts as a power hitter as well. Senior Sam Crisalli, who plays third base and pitches, says that McGee worked hard and has become the best player on the team. “Without him, we wouldn’t win a lot,” says Crisalli; “He’s a key role on our team.” Senior Alex Way, an outfielder and also McGee’s cousin, says that he “plays every game like it’s his last.” Canfield calls McGee a “superstar” and commends him for his work ethic in baseball. "He’s really strong, he’s really fast and he can adjust to (the college) environment," says Canfield. “Speed is a huge part of the college game,” says Coach Klemperer, “and Chris is one of the fastest players in the area.” He says that McGee can play multiple positions defensively at a high level, which would make him an asset to his future team at Binghamton. Coach Klemperer also says that “Chris puts a great deal of time into the sport,” taking into account McGee’s varsity season, offseason workouts, lessons, and summer ball. “He has some natural gifts that he is very blessed to have,” says Coach Klemperer, “but he has realized over the last year or two that it takes more than just natural ability to play at the next level. He has worked hard to get stronger and faster, and realizes that he always has something to work on to make him a better all-around player.” Coach Dera said that McGee is a “very hard worker” and has become an “elite baseball player” through his work ethic and his desire to get better. According to Coach Dera, McGee was able to run a 60-yard sprint in 6.57 seconds which compares to the speed of Major League baseball players. “To put his (speed) in perspective,” says Coach Dera, “Jameis Winston, the starting quarterback for Florida State, ran a 6.59-second 60-yard in high school.” Coach Dera states that McGee’s strongest attribute is his speed. He says that McGee’s speed and tremendous amount of range will serve him well in the outfield, while offensively he is able to hit with power.

McGee’s presence on the team has been exemplified by noteworthy contributions. “Chris is a great player that performs consistently on a very high level,” says Coach Dera. Last season showed McGee batting .350 and striking out only six times in 80 plate appearances. He also hit five home runs, which was the most on the team. On the pitching mound, he had a 1.27 earned-run average, 42 strikeouts, and nine bases on balls. McGee also hit a walk-off grand slam at the bottom of the seventh inning in the season opener against Vernon-Verona-Sherrill. “His grand slam started off our season right,” says Werbowsky; “That set the tone for the season. It shows how him being a leader brings us success.” Coach Klemperer says that McGee tends to be “even-tempered” when he’s out on the field but builds excitement for his team also. “During the times when he gets fired up, pounds his glove, and turns into more of a vocal leader,” says Coach Klemperer, “the team really feeds off of that passion since it’s a little bit out of character for him.”

Before McGee moves forward to collegiate level-baseball, he still has his senior season ahead of him. McGee has high expectations for the spring season and so does his team. He believes that the varsity team will be strong this year. He expects his team to make sectionals, be ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the state, earn a state title and perform better than last year overall. “Our team has a good chance to make a run at a sectional title this year,” says Coach Klemperer, “and Chris will be a big part of that.” The best competition the team expects to face is from New Hartford and CBA, says McGee. Meanwhile, his personal goals include making the All-CNY team as well as leading his team to sectional and state titles in his final high school season. He jokingly added that being appointed as “Player of the Year” would be nice as well.