McLemore mended, firing again

Del Oro grad revives career in Chico after injury derails his Major League dream
By: Joshua Ansley Journal Sports Writer
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His rocket arm carried him from the sandlots of the foothills to Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. Mark McLemore was on the top of his game and living a dream, until just a year into pitching in the Majors, an injury to his left elbow cut it short. The former Houston Astros pitcher is now back in top form after recovering from Tommy John surgery. The surgery replaced a ligament in the elbow of McLemore’s left throwing arm. While it kept him from pitching at all in 2008, McLemore is now pitching for the Chico Outlaws, an unaffiliated team competing in the Golden Baseball League. Tommy John surgery is common among baseball players, and usually takes a year to recover from. The road to recovery for McLemore has taken a little longer. After being out for a year, McLemore was still with the Astros at the end of 2009, but was sent back down to TripleA before he resigned. He signed briefly with the Minnesota Twins earlier this year, but didn’t have the same velocity on his pitches after not pitching for so long. He was released after a brief time in spring training. McLemore is a former Del Oro high star who dominated opponents with a fastball that could reach the mid 90’s by his senior year. After pitching on varsity for three years, former coach Sam Vaughn said he could have even used McLemore as a freshman. “He could’ve helped us, but we wanted to see him grow and develop, which he did,” said Vaughn. “He was a quiet leader, always the hardest worker on the team, and very popular in the clubhouse. He is certainly the most successful to come out of the program.” Vaughn coached for 12 years at Del Oro, and said his favorite years were with the teams McLemore played on. “He was on the teams that I most enjoyed coaching,” said Vaughn. “It was during those years when we weren’t particularly blessed with talent, and we really struggled, but we had fun.” High school was an interesting time for McLemore. Although he had been playing baseball since he was 5, it wasn’t his main priority. “I thought I was Mr. Football guy,” McLemore admitted. “Baseball was just kind of something I did on the side. I was just a kid who could throw harder than everybody else. I was just really blessed in that area. It wasn’t hard for me.” While McLemore was pitching for the Oregon State Beavers his dependence on the fastball began to slow to down his success on the mound. Luckily for McLemore, he was left handed and could throw hard. “I didn’t have a great college career,” McLemore said. “It wasn’t really until I started struggling early in my career in the minors that I began to develop other pitches.” Besides his signature fastball, which McLemore said is every pitcher’s greatest pitch, he also developed a reliable change-up. “That’s the pitch that set me apart and gave me opportunities,” McLemore said. He was drafted by the Astros in 2002, and pitched in the minor leagues for five years before being called up by the team in 2007. While McLemore knew he was getting closer and closer to getting the call each year, it still came as a big shock when he got the phone call. McLemore’s whole family came out for his debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the Astros trailing, and in need of a left hander, McLemore came in as reliever in the eighth inning. “It was a lot of fun for my friends and family,” McLemore said. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last long. With other pitchers returning from the disabled list, McLemore was sent back down to Triple-A in Round Rock, Texas. He would go back and forth four times before spending the last two months of the season with the Astros. As is expected in professional sports, Mclemore had his ups and downs. While it was a thrill to get his first Major League win, later that season against the Phillies he pitched the worst game of his career. McLemore had a disastrous fourth inning in which he gave up three home runs. “It was the first time my parents saw me on television,” McLemore said. “It was really awful.” Family matters a lot to McLemore, who chose to play in Chico this year partly because it was closer to home. He said he owes most of his success to his family. “I couldn’t have done it without my family and all their support through the years,” McLemore said. “My dad was my coach all the way up until high school. He would always take time to throw me pitches for batting practice, and catch for me when I was pitching.” McLemore has two brothers who are currently coaching football at Del Oro. His younger brother, Matt, is the defensive coordinator for the junior varsity, and his older brother John, is an assistant coach. John is a former catcher for the Golden Eagles, and will occassionally still catch for Mark when he needs some extra practice. When he is not with his brothers, or making batters miss, McLemore spends most of his time with his wife of six years, Amanda, and his new 8-and-a-half month-old daughter, Kendall. “She amazes us everyday with the things she does,” McLemore said. While Vaughn recognizes McLemore’s remarkable success in the game of baseball, his greatest admiration for the gifted left hander is his devotion to family. “It’s great that he not only had the ability to chase his dream, but to see his face light up when he talks about his family is just wonderful,” Vaughn said. Along with the new addition to his family this year, McLemore is looking to play winter ball after finishing the season with the Outlaws. He hopes that will give him another opportunity to sign with a Major League team and return to the top of his profession. “I think I should be able to,” McLemore said. “I’m back to where I was in 2007, when I was at my best.”