Scotty McCreery was planning on pitching for the Garner (NC) Magnet High School baseball team in 2011 when something went careening out of control that left him watching his lifelong friends pitch, catch and hit from afar.
When McCreery traveled from Garner, North Carolina (south of Raleigh, population nearing 30,000) to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to audition for American Idol, many felt he was a quality singer that had a chance of being chosen to go to Hollywood as one of a couple of hundred finalists. Nobody, though, thought he would find himself in the position he did on Tuesday night, singing live before 7,000 screaming fans at the Nokia Theatre in Hollywood and millions nationwide on the live television broadcast of the ever popular show.
“He definitely would have helped us this year,” said Garner head baseball coach Derik Goffena. “He was the top junior varsity pitcher (as a sophomore) a year ago and would have been a good high school pitcher in 2011.” Goffen said he has good location with his fastball, although McCreery’s main pitch is a curveball. “His curveball is sick,” said teammate Alex Hulmes.
McCreery finished with a 6-1 record as a starting pitcher on the junior varsity in 2010 and made the varsity team this season, before his American Idol audition. Goffena had McCreery penciled in as a relief pitcher before his newfound success.
Garner got off to a slow start in 2011, but rebounded to win four of its final five regular season games before falling in the opening round of the state playoffs against Pine Forest to finish with an 11-13 record.
“We all knew he was a good singer,” Goffena added. “We all hoped for the best and wished him luck, but nobody would have thought the run would have gone like this.”
McCreery’s lifelong friends and high school teammates weren’t as surprised as many would think. Junior First baseman Alec Hulmes has been a friend of McCreery’s since kindergarten. “We all knew he could sing,” he said. “He would sing Elvis on the school bus in elementary and middle school. He would sing at Church and in the school chorus and he even sang at the Relay For Life fundraiser last year. He would always sing country music.”
Hulmes, along with senior pitcher Will Norris, senior outfielder Colin Perry and classmate Cody Wilson flew to Los Angeles to visit McCreery during American Idol and see him sing live during one of the shows. “It’s a lot different than what people see on TV,” he said. “It was crazy how everything was staged, and the quick pace, it was unbelievable.
The friends were able to visit with McCreery in Hollywood, have a couple of meals with him and even had the chance to play basketball at a park nearby the studio.
All of McCreery’s friends say the person you see on television is the same person they have grown up with. “He’s a great teammate,” said Hulmes. “When he’s not pitching, he’s in the dugout cheering everyone on. He’s always been a team player.”
Goffena echoed Hulmes comments, “He’s a great kid and a real good teammate,” Goffena said. “He has a very good work ethic, is easy to coach and is a good teammate for the other kids.”
Although Goffena was not able to coach McCreery in 2011 as he missed the entire season, he was able to see him two weeks ago when McCreery came home to visit Garner and perform a concert for thousands of cheering fans. “It was good to see him and spend time with him. When you spend as much time as a coach spends with his players day in and day out, it was good to spend time with him after not seeing him for 3 or 4 months.”
Principal Drew Cook said the entire experience has been great for the small town. “It’s been a whirlwind for everyone, but it’s been a good kind of busy.,” he said.
“Everyday during the school day is the same, we just have some fun at night,” Cook added, acknowledging the town has been hosting American Idol watch parties for seven weeks.
Cook said the first time he noticed McCreery’s singing abilities was during the high school performance of Bye Bye Birdie when McCreery was a 15-year old sophomore. McCreery played the part of Conrad Birdie. “My wife looked at me and said ‘Who is Ttat’ and I replied ‘that is Scotty McCreery,’” Cook said.
Cook added, “It’s been an event, but it feels good when you know what type of kid Scotty is. He is a good hard working honest young man. He has never done anything to draw attention to himself.”
Now that American Idol is only one day away from crowning a champion, Cook took a different viewpoint, “We’re going to wake up in a couple of weeks and realize it’s final exams and graduation,” he said with a big smile.
When I asked Goffena about 2012, he obviously had no answers about McCreery and his pitching career, acknowledging “I don’t know how the (American Idol) contract works.”
As Cook surmised about McCreery “He’ll be successful at whatever he does.”