Feb. 8, 2017

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The drive from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Davenport Field usually takes about five-and-a-half hours. Joe McCarthy Sr. has made the trip more times than he can remember.

“I can do it with my eyes closed now, honest to God,” he said, laughing.

In the summer of 2012, Joe McCarthy Jr., who’d been a three-sport standout at Scranton High School, joined the University of Virginia baseball team. After a college career during which the Cavaliers made two trips to the College World Series, Joe Jr. is now playing professionally in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization. But his family is still represented in the Wahoos’ program.

UVA’s starting outfielders this year include Jake McCarthy, a sophomore who, like his brother, played football, basketball and baseball at Scranton High.

They’re not the first pair of siblings to play baseball at UVA during Brian O’Connor‘s tenure as head coach. There were the Wermans, Kyle and Keith, and Jake McCarthy isn’t the only current player with a brother who preceded him in the program. Riley Wilson’s brother, Tyler, starred for the Cavaliers, as did Jack Roberts’ brother, Will.

“It makes me smile,” O’Connor said, “because it makes me feel good about the experience that that family had with the first one. And that makes an impression on the second one, and then he decides he’s going to come here.”

The younger brothers “know what to expect,” O’Connor said. “They know how the program is run. They know what the expectations are, and I think that’s great.”

Jake was a regular at Davenport Field in 2013, Joe Jr.’s freshman year, and said those trips to Charlottesville gave him “a lot of insight into what went on here.”

He committed to UVA in the summer of 2013. His parents had a great rapport with the Cavaliers’ coaching staff, but they left the decision to Jake.

“He had it easier than Joe, because Jake was down there with us all the time and had Joe to show him around,” Joe Sr. “So when [the staff] made him an offer, he said, `Dad, I know the place. I like the coaches, I know the people down there already. This is an easy decision.’ ”

In 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Jake in the 23rd round of the Major League Baseball draft, but he opted to enroll at UVA. His first season with the Cavaliers started in impressive fashion, only to end prematurely.

In Virginia’s sixth game, Feb. 27 against East Carolina, McCarthy tore ligaments in his right big toe while tracking a fly ball in left field. The injury required season-ending surgery.

“When I hit the wall, I was more worried about my face — my shades had been broken — and I didn’t really realize that I had hurt my toe until maybe five, 10 minutes later, when I kind of calmed down and my foot got swollen,” McCarthy recalled.

In his six games, five of which he started, the 6-2, 200-pound McCarthy hit .368.

“He was playing great right out of the gate,” O’Connor said. “He’s aggressive, and I love guys that are aggressive, and he plays the game really hard. He plays the game so hard that it cost him.”

That made the injury even more frustrating for McCarthy.

“When you’re trying to play the game hard, play it the right way, making a play down on the warning track on a fly ball, you really don’t account for something like that to happen,” he said. “It was unfortunate, but I worked hard trying to get back this fall, and I finally feel 100 percent, so I’m really looking forward to this season.”

Joe Jr., the ACC freshman of the year in 2013, had to overcome a significant injury during his UVA career, too. After having back surgery, he missed the Cavaliers’ first 35 games in 2015. He returned in mid April and helped Virginia capture its first NCAA title in baseball.

“After you get knocked down, you gotta get up, brush yourself off, and get back at it,” Joe Sr. said. “You gotta do what you gotta do. You go through therapy, and hopefully everything works out. Knock on wood, Joe’s back is fine, and Jake tells me his toe’s perfect. So we’re good to go.”

Jake rehabbed in Charlottesville last summer. In the fall, he participated fully in practice and played in the Orange & Blue World Series. In the seventh and deciding game, his three-run home run broke a 2-2 tie and clinched the series for the Orange team.

With McCarthy watching from the dugout, the Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA tournament for the 13th consecutive season in 2016. But their bid for a third straight trip to the College World Series ended June 5 with a loss to William & Mary in the NCAA regional at Davenport Field.

Missing virtually all of the season was difficult for McCarthy.

“You want to be a part of it, because as a competitor you think you can contribute no matter how well you’ve been playing,” he said. “So it was definitely tough for me just to sit out for such a long period of time. That’s the longest injury I’ve ever had, so in February it was tough getting the surgery, but in May when the regional rolled around and everything, it got even tougher, because this is what you play for and I wasn’t able to contribute.”

For the `Hoos, picked by the ACC’s head coaches to finish second in the Coastal Division, the season starts Feb. 17 with a game against Liberty in the Charleston (S.C.) Crab House Shootout.

McCarthy is expected to start in left field when junior Adam Haseley isn’t pitching this season. When Haseley is on the mound, McCarthy will move to center field.

“Jake brings a high level of athleticism to your lineup,” O’Connor said. “He’s the fastest guy on our ball club. So that impacts you in leg hits getting to first base, potential stolen bases, going first to third, scoring, things like that. He’s got an ability to create havoc on the base paths that very few guys do. I’m excited that he’s fully healthy.”

In high school, like his brother, his sister and his father before him, Jake wore No. 31 in every sport he played.

Joe Sr. was a three-sport star at Scranton Central, which later merged with Scranton Tech to form Scranton High.

“I always wore 44,” Joe Sr. recalled, “and when I got to high school, there was no 44, and they threw me 31 and said, `Here, wear 31,’ and that was it. And ever since I put 31 on, I don’t know if it was magical, but things always worked out. It just seemed to be a lucky number. And it still seems to be lucky.”

In October 2015, No. 31 was retired at Scranton High, which “was definitely a pretty cool honor,” Jake said.

In the UVA baseball program, of course, the number remains in use. Joe Jr. wore it in 2013, ’14 and ’15, and it now belongs to Jake.

That’s not all the they have in common. Like Joe Jr., Jake bats and throws left-handed, and they were extremely close growing up in Scranton.

“When I was a freshman and moved up to varsity for all three sports, I played with him,” Jake said, “and even when we were younger, I got moved up a year early. So when I was 8, I played on Joe’s 12-year-old Little League team. It was really cool, because we were both lefties, and we usually played the same position.

“So as much as I maybe didn’t know it when I was younger, I kind of modeled my game after what he did, because whether we were in the backyard playing against one another or I was going to his games, that was really the only way I saw how to do some things.”

Both of his sons, Joe Sr., have “great attitudes. They will never give up. They’re both tough as nails.

“Jake might be a little quicker, but when they race, if Joe’s in game shape, they run even,” their father said. “They’re the same speed.”

Joe Jr. starred at running back for Scranton High’s football team. Jake was even more accomplished in that sport. He holds the school records for rushing yards in a game (351), season (2,105) and career (6,080).

“I absolutely love [multi-sport athletes],” said O’Connor, who starred in football, basketball and baseball at Saint Albert High School in his hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“I think that’s part of what made [former UVA baseball standouts] Steven Proscia and John Hicks such great players. Those guys were football players as well. It’s dying out in our sport, because we’ve become so specialized in high school.

“When you get a chance to have those kind of guys in your program, I think they make a difference.”

A New York Giants fan, Jake is a regular at UVA games at Scott Stadium and still follows football closely.

“I miss it a little bit, but baseball is what I do now,” he said.

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