When Ryan McCarthy first stepped into the box to take batting practice with The Citadel's baseball, a hush fell over the field.
"It was one of those situations you hear about, where everyone stops what they are doing to watch," said Bulldogs coach Tony Skole. "That's the kind of show he put on."
The Ryan McCarthy Show has been an experiment in dual-sports citizenship this spring. The 6-3, 210-pound freshman — also a quarterback on the Bulldogs' football team — has doubled as a designated hitter/outfielder for Skole's baseball team.
As the No. 8 seed Bulldogs face No. 9 Western Carolina in the play-in game of the Southern Conference Tournament on Tuesday in Greenville, McCarthy is batting .263 with two home runs and 15 runs-batted in for a 19-33 Citadel team.
Those numbers aren't bad for a guy who thought he had given up baseball after his high school career at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, Ga.
"He's got a long way to go in becoming a complete player," said Skole, who himself was a two-sport star at The Citadel. "But the tools are definitely there. He had gone for more than a year without playing baseball, and we threw him into a Division I lineup and asked him to produce. And he's continued to get better and better."
McCarthy redshirted last football season while quarterbacks Dominique Allen and Jordan Black led the Bulldogs to a 5-6 record. With Allen graduated, McCarthy competed during spring practice with Brandon Rainey at backup QB behind presumed starter Black.
In the spring football game on March 3, McCarthy had touchdown runs of 42 and 32 yards. Four days later, he was in the starting lineup for the baseball team against Winthrop.
"My challenge to Ryan was that he needed to have a great spring practice and prove to coach (Brent) Thompson that he can be an impact guy on the football field," Skole said. "And from everything I hear, he had a great spring. That was important for me, that he solidify himself in football, and then come over and play baseball."
McCarthy hit .308 through his first 16 games, but pitch selection and command of the strike zone became predictable issues for the rookie. He ended up with a team-high 47 strikeouts against 17 walks.
"I'd taken a whole year off, so it was tough for me to rebound," McCarthy said. "I'm probably not into the swing of things yet, but I think I will get there as I get older and get more time. It was just a surprise at first, because I wasn't expecting to play."
McCarthy provided a glimpse of his potential in early May, going 4 for 11 with two home runs and four RBI in three games at ETSU.
"He's dangerous whenever he steps into the box, and he has the best power of anybody on the team," Skole said. "He has a chance to be a special player here, and I think you'll see a complete player when it's all said and done."
There will be no wood-bat baseball for McCarthy this summer, as he's slated to return to football workouts as soon as baseball season is over. He's likely to continue that cycle throughout his Citadel career.
"It takes a special commitment," said Skole, who played for The Citadel's 1990 College World Series baseball team and two football playoff teams. "When football season's over, he's got five or six weeks to get ready for baseball. It's not easy, but it's nothing he can't handle. I'm counting on him hitting in the middle of our lineup for years to come."
McCarthy doesn't want to let either team down.
"I feel like I owe both teams my best effort," he said. "So you've got to give it your best at all times. You don't want either team to see you slacking off."
No Citadel players were named to any of the all-SoCon baseball teams announced Monday.
League coaches and media chose UNCG outfielder Andrew Moritz as the player of the year, UNCG right-hander Matt Frisbee as pitcher of the year and the Spartans' Link Jarrett as coach of the year. Coaches chose Mercer infielder R.J. Yeager as freshman of the year, while the media went with Samford pitcher Sam Strickland.
Fluor Field, Greenville
No. 8 The Citadel vs. No. 9 Western Carolina, 10 a.m.
No. 5 Mercer vs. No. 4 VMI, 9 a.m.
No. 1 UNCG vs. Citadel/WCU winner, 12:30 p.m.
No. 7 Furman vs. No. 2 Samford, 4 p.m.
No. 6 ETSU vs. No. 3 Wofford, 7:30 p.m.