This week, our Morgan’s Finest series continues a three-part story of a trio of great athletes from Morgan County High School. Last week we featured David West. This week we take a look at baseball player Stephen McClain, a Morgan County and Piedmont College star. Next week we will delve into the career of softball and all-around superstar Kim Massey. The uniqueness of this feature finds three athletes attending the same college after graduation from MCHS. While at Piedmont College, these three friends find themselves as the only three students attending there from MOCO with scholarships in three different sports. In the spring of 2001, each student-athlete is awarded the Most Valuable Player Award in each of their respective sports. Without a doubt, this is quite an unusual story and certainly worthy of our Morgan’s Finest series. We hope you enjoy reading about these former greats who have made our community proud.
Stephen McClain was destined for stardom from an early age. Father Royce McClain made sure of that. He started preparing him in the back yard before he was four by throwing to him and teaching him the mechanics of the game. To this day McClain is still enamored with the mechanics of hitting and hopes maybe one day to give back to the game and teach his son and others by becoming a hitting instructor. McClain still remembers some of those earliest days. He said, “We played recreation ball and then at Morgan County Middle School. Back in those days, there were no travel teams much. I do remember playing with some of my future high school teammates as early as on the 9-10 year-old All-Stars from Morgan County. We finished second in the state. Joey Lancaster, Shane Seabolt, Eric Freeman, Josh Whetzel, and some others were on that team.” It was a sign of things to come. The Middle School team, under the direction of a young Davis Bell, went undefeated (8-0) when this same group was eighth graders.
Upon entering high school, the infielder played on the JV, but was inserted into the lineup on the varsity as a designated hitter in several games. Head Coach David Wilson along with assistants Allen Crowley, Bill Malone, and Crandall Stamps knew this young man could hit. They began grooming him early-on to become the impact player he would be for the next three seasons. McClain spent the next three seasons under Wilson’s tutelage. He was awarded the Coach’s Award as a sophomore and the Offensive Player-of-the-Year as a senior. It was during that senior year in 1997 that the Dogs came into their own as a team. MOCo went undefeated in Region play and took home the Region Championship to advance to the State Playoffs. The Dogs defeated Jackson in the first round, but lost to Cook County in the Sweet Sixteen. “I felt like we gave that series away. We were ahead in both games, but just couldn’t pull it off. It still hurts to think about it. The other thing that sticks out in my mind is that we started off the season 0-8 before running the table for a Region Championship and advancing to the State Playoffs,” he commented. He added, “One of my best memories is of getting to play both football and baseball with my younger brother Chad. He was one of a very few freshmen who contributed on those senior-laden teams. It was a great memory to experience that with him.”
He, along with teammate and roommate for the next two seasons Shane Seabolt, was offered a scholarship to play baseball at Piedmont College. At the time, the school was a member of the NAIA, but made the switch to Division III during his junior season. McClain was redshirted his freshman season, and then spent the next four years pursuing his love of the game. He laughed when he said, “I went to school to play ball. While there I received two things; a wife and a degree. Make sure you print my wife first or I’m in trouble.”
The talented freshman garnered All-Freshman Team honors in his first season while playing second base and hitting .350 for the Lions. He continued in that role until his junior season when he was moved to third. That season (2001) he was awarded the MVP for his prowess on the diamond hitting .425 from his third slot in the lineup. He was named Team Captain his senior season.
McClain talked about another opportunity he was given for his baseball prowess. He commented, “My father-in-law to be, Tom Pluto, was highly involved with the International Management Group (IMG) baseball league and academy as a coach and scout. He invited me down to play in a wooden bat league. That’s where I really learned how to hit and play baseball. We played our games at Pirate City, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility and their Instructional League Team. We had some pretty good facilities at Piedmont, but these were like the pros are used to. It was very nice. While I was there, it wasn’t unusual to see some of the Major League players there getting some rehab work in. I saw Doc Gooden there one summer. I lived with Carrie’s parents there and was given an opportunity to keep playing ball in the offseason, get in shape for the upcoming season, and play against great competition. The coaching I received there was phenomenal.”
He recalled some of his best memories with these words, “My best game ever had to be against Emory University. They were ranked in the Top 10 Nationally in Division III. I went 6-6 in a nine inning game with four RBI’s.” He also recalled hitting homeruns at Polecat Stadium as a freshman and another at the old Chattanooga Lookouts Stadium. Both venues have a rich history of baseball with many famous baseball names attached to them. Polecat was once home to the Orioles’ minor league team.
“One of my best memories from high school was against Jones County. We were playing them at home and they had two pitchers that threw in the 90s. There were about 30 major league scouts there. Rico Washington was one of them. They had a no-hitter going into the bottom of the seventh. I led off the inning after striking out and getting hit in the earhole with a fastball. In that final at-bat I hit a homer over the right field scoreboard to break up the no-no. It felt pretty good against him and with the scouts there.”
The 39-year-old is now married to Carrie Pluto McClain, an outstanding athlete in her own right. She was a scholarship volleyball player at Piedmont College where the two met. They have been married now for 16 years and have two children; Reagan 13, and Luke 10. The two kids are following in their parents’ footsteps with Reagan playing on the MCMS volleyball squad where Mom is an assistant coach, and Luke is an aspiring soccer player. McClain is the son of Royce and Vickie McClain of Madison.
He has worked for the past 13 years for Great Estates Landscaping after spending time with Pike Nurseries, a tree farm, and another landscaping company. The business management degree he earned at Piedmont comes in second to his love for horticulture. He said, “I spent a lot of time with my great grandmother, Verna Anglin. She loved flowers and plants. I spent the summers with her in the yard and developed a passion for plants.”
McClain gave these thanks and words of praise for those in his life that have been instrumental to his success, “I have to thank my parents for all their sacrifices, Coach David Wilson, and my high school and college teammates. There are so many others. Carrie and her Dad in Bradenton helped me so much to reach my goals and my grandparents supported me too. Richard and Helen Nunnally were retired. I could always count on looking into the stands and seeing them there. They were at most of my college games, too.”
His advice to young players is, “I would like to say to any young athletes who may read this article to always play your sport with 100% effort, with honor, and never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. I’m here to say that hard work, passion for the game, drive, and a willingness to succeed can take you a long way.
If there was any doubt before, there certainly isn’t any now that Stephen McClain belongs in the Morgan’s Finest Hall of Fame.