McLean to shoulder load for LCC

KJ McLean, center, signs to Lower Columbia while surrounded by (from left) teammate Andrew Duke, grandad Bob McLean, dad Mike McLean and select coaches Jon Fuller and Pete Randall. - Courtesy photo
KJ McLean, center, signs to Lower Columbia while surrounded by (from left) teammate Andrew Duke, grandad Bob McLean, dad Mike McLean and select coaches Jon Fuller and Pete Randall.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

For Central Kitsap pitcher KJ McLean, life has come full circle.

What began as a joke about falling off a unicycle became a frightening reality for McLean after a fall last summer. But after last Monday, it’s all a laughing matter once again.

McLean, the Narrows League’s top relief pitcher a season ago, was messing around on a unicycle last July with some friends when he started joking about getting hurt if he fell.

Well, he did fall, injuring his shoulder in the process.

“I tripped over a unicycle, it popped out of the socket and then went back in and tore it,” McLean said. “The funny thing was my friends were laughing cause they thought I was joking. But it’s coming back strong.”

In fact, the injury, which at one point had McLean scared he’d never pitch again, much less this season, has proven an easy obstacle for him to overcome. Proof of that fact came last Monday when he agreed to continue pitching at the next level for Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash. LCC has won nine NWAACC baseball titles since 1970, including 2005’s crown (the Red Devils were runners-up last year). At 24-1 this season, Lower Columbia is considered the baseball jewel of the NWAACC by many.

“Oh yeah, definitely. I’m very excited,” McLean said. “They’ve got one of the best pitching coaches in the nation. They’re first or second every year. I’m excited. I opted out of some four-year (schools) to get there. It worked out better for me coming off surgery.”

The first doctor McLean visited about the injury told him he’d need definite surgery, but explained the procedure as a very invasive one. So invasive, McLean got a second opinion. Good thing.

The second doctor he saw said if he had gone through with the first surgery, he may have never pitched again. That was a close call for McLean that still hits home.

“That was scary,” McLean said. “When I heard that, I pretty much broke down. I need to be able to throw. That’s my life.”

But with his shoulder back in full effect this season, helping lead CK to a Narrows League title and the team’s first state berth since 1996, McLean has set his worries aside.

“This is what me and David (Stilley) have been talking about since we were sophomores,” he said of the state trip.

Last June, McLean was scheduled to work out for Washington State University, where Stilley is headed. And while his injury kind of derailed that opportunity, McLean has said it’s all worked out just fine.

“Actually, last summer I was supposed to showcase with Wazzu at the end of June,” he said. “When I got hurt, it screwed up all that. It kind of opted me out of a few places. But I’m glad where I’m going. It worked out perfect.”

Friend and CK teammate Andrew Duke is also heading to LCC, something McLean said should help make the transition.

“He’s turned out to be one of my better friends on the team,” he said. “And it’s not too far from home. I can still decide, ‘I can just go home for the day.’”

But his biggest excitement is the staff he’ll be working with, including head coach Kelly Smith and pitching coach Rob Hippi.

“The second (Hippi) saw me, he changed my fingers a little bit and added two miles to my fastball,” McLean said. “It’s very, very, very exciting.

“All I know is it’s gonna get better from there.”

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