OSU baseball: Carson McCusker plays outfield, swings a mean bat and stands 6-foot-8 -- and that's no tall tale
Oklahoma State center fielder Trevor Boone hears the same thing pretty much every time the Cowboys have a game on TV.
"You look 5-foot-6," friends will say.
"Yeah," the 6-2 Boone will retort, "because he's 6-8."
"He" is Carson McCusker, and he makes lots of people look short.
He is every bit of 6-foot-8.
Tall players are nothing new in baseball. The Cowboys alone have seven players who are 6-5 or taller, but with the exception of McCusker, all of them are pitchers. Players with his height are usually pitching or playing first base. Few are playing left field and leading the team in hitting -- but heading into this weekend's NCAA Super Regional at Texas Tech, that's exactly what McCusker is doing.
"He's a rare breed of cat, that's for sure," Cowboy coach Josh Holliday said as OSU prepared to depart for Lubbock. "Not many guys that tall can maintain that athletic ability that he has to play the outfield.
Never were McCusker's skills more on display than earlier this week in OSU's must-win regional game against Connecticut. He made three highlight-reel catches in left field, then provided the game-winning runs when he ripped a two-run double off the left-field wall in the sixth inning.
The junior must be big again this weekend if OSU wants to beat Texas Tech and advance to the College World Series.
So, how did someone as tall as McCusker end up snagging fly balls and delivering big hits instead of pitching?
He admits he did pitch a bit, even into high school back home in Sparks, Nevada, but it never really agreed with him. Pitching caused him some shoulder pain, so McCusker quickly moved away from it.
He knew playing the outfield was possible for a taller guy like him. Richie Sexton, who is 6-7, played left field in the Major Leagues for years. More recently, Aaron Judge has become a phenom as a power-hitting, 6-7 right fielder.
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But McCusker also recognized he faced challenges that were different than smaller outfielders. Even though he came from an athletic family -- his mom played college volleyball while his dad was a baseball guy -- McCusker knew he would have to work to maintain his athleticism. Lifting. Running. Stretching. Conditioning.
Past experiences with other sports have helped, too. He played basketball and tennis in high school, and even now, he is quick to join teammates when they want to play a pickup game of basketball or even volleyball.
"Those different sports taught me to be athletic in different ways and use athleticism in different ways," McCusker said. "In the long run, you kind of channel all the different movements into one sport."
Holliday said, "He's a unique athlete. He's graceful."
But the coach admits he was initially skeptical about recruiting much less signing the tallest outfielder he's ever had. OSU pitching coach Rob Walton was the first person on the Cowboy staff to see McCusker as a freshman at Folsom Lake College, a junior college in California.
"Believe it or not," Walton told Holliday, "he's 6-foot-8."
"What's he look like?" Holliday asked.
"He looks really good, actually," Walton reported.
Like Walton, Holliday liked what he saw once he checked out McCusker, and when the coaches got to know the prospect, they were sold even more on making him a Cowboy.
"Very competitive kid," Holliday said, adding McCusker takes that competitiveness to class and already has a few 4.0 semesters during his two years at OSU. "Hard, hard worker."
His teammates recognize not only his commitment to his craft but also his mentality. McCusker has been steady, leading the team with a .312 batting average and 17 doubles, but as he did during regionals, he steps up in big moments, too.
"He's fearless," Boone said. "A lot of guys (his size) would've just bailed and moved to an easier position, but ... he trusts his abilities.
"He's a great guy to play next to."
Even when he makes you look short.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
NCAA super regional
OSU at Texas Tech
Game 1: 2 p.m. Friday (ESPN2)
Game 2: 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
x-Game 3: 5 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU)