Bullpen Catcher for Gamecock Baseball Is a Pioneer
There’s a neat feel-good movie script that is writing itself in the South Carolina Baseball bullpen. Sophomore Meredith McFadden is the Gamecocks’ bullpen catcher, and she is the first female to hold such a spot at an NCAA Division One Power Five Conference school.
For the South Carolina coaching staff, gender doesn’t matter. Ability does.
“The role of that position is very important for us,” said South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston. “You want it to be someone who is trustworthy. You want it to be someone who is talented enough to handle our type of pitching staff, which is extremely talented. You want it to be someone who is mature because coach (Justin) Parker is going to ask her, what did you think about that guy? Or, how is his curve ball today? Did he have control? You want it to be someone whom you respect their opinion, and Meredith is all of those things. Her role for us is important because every pitch she catches down there is one less that Cole Messina has to catch, which keeps him fresher for the games. That’s a really important role for a team. We’re happy to have her. She does a great job.”
McFadden’s love for baseball came at an early age, and while other girls played softball, she couldn’t get away from the baseball diamond.
“I just love baseball,” said McFadden, who is studying exercise science. “Everything about it; the people, the culture, and being able to be outside all day, every day. I love it.
“I started playing Little League when I was four years old because my older brother played. I grew up going to the field with him. I was friends with all of his teammates and their younger siblings. We just fell into baseball together. I found that’s where my heart was. I loved being on the field with the guys. It’s nothing against softball. This is just where I felt myself going.”
McFadden started catching when she was around five or six years old. As she got older, she decided there was no reason to stop, and she tried out for the team at Olympic High School in Charlotte.
“I was lucky going into high school because a lot of those guys I played with in high school, I played with ever since I was young,” McFadden said. “They knew me as a baseball player first. That was cool in not having to work to earn an entire team’s trust. I already had a lot of guys supporting me.”
Due to several coaching changes throughout her high school career, she would have to prove herself year after year to each new staff.
“It definitely made me work harder, and it made me a better baseball player because I had to work for every single bit of it,” McFadden said. “I played all four years of my high school career. I caught some and played some second base.”
When she came to college, she didn’t want baseball to end. She grew up as a Gamecock fan, and when one of her high school seasons was taken away due to the COVID pandemic, she started thinking ahead of how she could be a part of the program at South Carolina, whether it was as a manager or helping out with statistics. She eventually discovered that the Gamecocks had student bullpen catchers and reached out to the coaching staff. The position was already filled during her freshman year at South Carolina, but last summer, she received a message from the baseball staff to see if she was still interested. She nailed the tryout, and the rest is history.
“Before I came here, there was definitely some word that got around the team,” McFadden said. “When I got here, they were telling me some things about my baseball history. So, I was like, oh wow, y’all have done your research! I think they were excited to see if I was legit or not, or if I was just doing it for show.
“The first guy I caught here was (junior) Jack Mahoney. The first pitch, I could tell he was a little worried. They don’t want me getting hurt, and they don’t want to just put anybody back there. Once I stood up to that first pitch, and caught it like everybody else, they settled down a bit. I feel like the trust just skyrocketed from there. I think I proved I could be in the same space with these guys.”
Getting to catch all of South Carolina’s pitchers makes each day different, and there were some mental challenges at first.
“Probably earning the trust from the guys, especially being a girl in this job,” McFadden said. “The guys have to trust their catcher. I don’t want them to have to let up when they’re throwing their pitches. I want them to get their best reps in. My only goal is for them to trust me, and building that trust is really important.
“(The best part is) Being able to work with these high-level pitchers and being able to help our guys coming back from injuries. Just being a part of this team and having some sort of small role in our big wins, I love it. We have so many great pitchers here that I love catching.”
“It’s awesome with what she has been able to do for us,” said sophomore pitcher Eli Jones. “She is a big help every day. She tells us what she sees, and that gives us a lot of great feedback to help us improve.”
While she’s an important part of the team, there are some limitations as she can’t share the same locker room with the rest of the team to enjoy some of the off the field connections that teammates make in that environment. Still, she feels accepted.
“I love the family. These guys are amazing. The staff, the coaches, and every single person that is part of Gamecock Baseball is amazing. Just being able to call Founders Park my home every day, I love it!”
Throughout McFadden’s career, her parents, Heather and Mike, have been supportive of all her efforts, and she still has more baseball dreams ahead of her. In the meantime, McFadden’s determination sends a strong message to anyone who has doubt when chasing a childhood dream.
“I always tell girls who come here and say they play baseball to just keep playing!” McFadden said. “I didn’t have enough people telling me to keep playing. It’s simple. Just keep playing.”