CORVALLIS — Before the season, Alex McGarry was a little-known commodity in Beaver Nation, one of several candidates to fill vacancies among position players on Oregon State's baseball team.
As the Beavers (16-4-1 overall, 3-3 Pac-12) head to Washington for a three-game series that starts at 7 p.m. Friday, McGarry is the cleanup man providing plate protection for No. 3 hitter Adley Rutschman.
It's a heady turn of events for the walk-on redshirt sophomore out of Columbia River High in Vancouver, Washington.
McGarry had a string of four straight games with home runs snapped in Oregon State's 10-5 victory over California last Sunday at Goss Stadium.
"I knew the streak would end at some point," he says. "You try not to think about it, but I admit, I was. it was a blast while it lasted, for sure."
Heading into Tuesday's game against Portland at Ron Tonkin Field, the 6-2, 205-pound McGarry was second on the team behind Rutschman in batting (.356), on-base percentage (.484) and home runs (five), tied with Rutschman for the lead in runs scored (24) and third in RBIs (17).
"It's been a hoot," says McGarry, who sat out last season as Oregon State won the College World Series championship. "You never really know what to expect.
"I always tried to keep my head up on the bad days. Watching this team play from the stands was not nearly as fun as being a part of it. I'm grateful for everything up to this point."
"He has far exceeded our expectations with what he's done offensively," OSU interim head coach Pat Bailey says. "We're really happy with him. We wouldn't be where we are right now without Alex."
At Columbia River, McGarry was a two-time all-league first baseman who was his league's Player of the Year and a first-team all-state selection after hitting .525 as a senior. Then weighing 175 pounds, he wasn't a power hitter, though he was "very much a clutch hitter," says his coach with the Chieftains, Stephen Donahue.
"Alex hit a lot of doubles but only two homers his senior year," says Donahue, the leadoff hitter and starting outfielder for Bailey's NCAA Division III championship club at George Fox in 2004. "He didn't get the (scholarship) offers he wanted coming out of (Columbia) River."
But McGarry had caught the eye of Oregon State coaches, though purely by chance. McGarry was playing with the Vancouver Cardinals summer team — coached by Jim Wilson, the ex-OSU great and current Beaver radio analyst for football and baseball — in a tournament in Corvallis after his senior year at Columbia River. They were facing a Corvallis American Legion team featuring Joe Casey, the son of then-OSU head coach Pat Casey.
"Alex had a big day, and afterward I got a text from 'Case' asking about him," Wilson says.
McGarry played mostly first base, but also a little outfield for the Cardinals, a collection of many of the premier prep players in Southwest Washington.
"We had five or six Division I players — three Pac-12 players, and another who was drafted and signed — and Alex was one of our best players," says Wilson, a former major league first baseman. "He was a great defensive first baseman — one of the best I've seen at that level. We knew his swing needed to tighten up, and he did it. He's a coachable kid. He listens to what you're saying and tries to apply it."
Donahue holds similar feelings about McGarry's talents.
"He's the best first baseman I've ever had," says Donahue, in his 10th season as Columbia River's head coach. "He's a pure hitter, and he's an animal worker. He wants to be great."
Oregon State was loaded with veteran position players at the time, including first baseman KJ Harrison, and McGarry had committed to playing for Tacoma Community College in the spring. So the Beavers suggested he play a season at Tacoma.
"The Oregon State coaches wanted me to play there, get some at-bats, play every day and get some experience at Tacoma, then come (to OSU) for my sophomore year," McGarry says. "It was good for me."
"Alex took a risk," Donahue says. "If he'd had a bad year at Tacoma, (Oregon State) probably wouldn't have taken him. But he had a big year."
McGarry hit .336 with two homers, 12 stolen bases and a team-high 43 RBIs in 43 games as a freshman at Tacoma, then redshirted last season at OSU after breaking a bone in his right hand, which required surgery. He played last summer for the Rochester (Minnesota) Honkers in the Northwoods wooden-bat league. McGarry was in Rochester when he learned his OSU teammates had won the College World Series title.
"I was playing left field, and the opposing team's pitchers were in the bullpen with their phones on, shouting me updates," he says with a laugh. "I found out about us winning the 'Natty' in left field in Minnesota."
McGarry led the Honkers in batting average (.318) and home runs (eight) with 32 RBIs in 44 games. He arrived back on campus in Corvallis in September bigger and stronger. And, after work with Tyler Graham, OSU's director of player development and center fielder for the Beavers' 2006 national championship club, McGarry has improved in another area.
"I lived with (former OSU All-America outfielder) Trevor Larnach last year, and he was close with Tyler, who is big on the mental part of the game — meditation, visualization and all that stuff," McGarry says. "Now I'm close with Tyler, too. Every day, a group of 10 or so players do about a 20-minute meditation session with Tyler. It's something we've all bought in on. It's been crucial to my development as a player."
McGarry has played some first base but will likely get most of his time in left field or at designated hitter this season.
"Alex is a really good outfielder, and Zak Taylor might be the best defensive first baseman in the country," Bailey says.
"The transition (to the outfield) has gone OK," McGarry says. "It's been fun — I like the challenge."
The Beavers need McGarry to continue hitting to keep opponents honest with Rutschman, who already has been walked 29 times in 21 games — fourth most in the nation.
"I guess it's surprising I'm in this position, but we stress preparation," McGarry says. "Knowing that we have so many guys who are ready to go, it helps take pressure off of me."
McGarry says it has been a thrill to play for a storied program such as Oregon State's.
"It's been an honor to be a part of the legacy and special tradition that's been built here," he says. "I'm excited for a lot of reasons. We have a really good group of guys. It's pretty evident the guys care about each other. We're excited about what we have going for us moving forward."
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