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A long MLB journey for PC alum McDonald

September 29, 2013

John McDonald suited up for four different teams this season before getting traded to the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 31. Though his role with his current team has been limited, the 38-year-old is thrilled he now has another shot at the postseason. McDonald made the most of a rare start Sunday, going 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored as the Red Sox dropped their regular-season finale to the Baltimore Orioles, 7-6. BILLIE WEISS / Boston Red Sox photo

Hendricken Field, the official name of the onetime campus venue for Providence College baseball, no longer has a spacious, perfectly trimmed lawn. In its stead is an outdoor track and field complex that stands on the threshold of completion.

No longer can the ghosts of PC baseball seek refuge within their former diamond embassy, one that until recently remained a fitting ode to what took place every springtime. Even after Hendricken Field lost its primary tenants in 1999, the space remained a slice of unchanged life, humming along as if nothing earth shattering or life altering had ever taken place.

Providence’s decision to provide the track and field program with a well deserved home is something that resonates with the last Friar baseball alumnus that’s still gainfully employed in the major leagues. That’s because John McDonald’s wife, the former Maura Cignetti, ran track at PC, the 800-meter distance serving as her chief discipline.

The plot of land located off River Ave. where John carved out a stellar college baseball career will now house the track program that Maura was once affiliated with. When looking at the completely transformed terrain through the couple’s own lens, a feeling of close, personal attachment must wash over them, a comfort that comes from knowing that one of them still has firm ties to the surroundings once known as the domicile for Providence baseball.

These days, John McDonald’s main focus is to lend a helping hand to the Boston Red Sox’ October pursuit. A 38-year-old veteran middle infielder who since reporting to spring training with the Arizona Diamondbacks has played for five different teams and six different managers, McDonald has done his best not to read too much into the vagabond existence that defined his 2013 campaign, his 15th in the bigs.

Looking back at a different time in his life, McDonald admits that he still thinks about what might have been regarding Providence baseball.

“You wish that your program was still there so you can go back and workout with the current guys playing there. That’s one thing that I miss – not having a program there so I can go and help,” expressed McDonald while standing in front of his Fenway Park locker not too long ago. “I workout at [UConn-Avery Point, the junior college where this East Lyme, Conn. native starred at prior to coming to PC in 1995] when I have the chance, but Providence would have been much closer. It would have been nice to give back to those guys.”

You won’t hear McDonald utter a negative word about the Friars and the controversial decision school officials made in nixing baseball. He completed his undergraduate requirements in 2010, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies. Living in the Boston suburbs with Maura and their two children, McDonald gladly shared that he renewed his season tickets for Friar men’s basketball games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after purchasing them for the first time last year.

“I love being one of the last guys to play,” said McDonald about the badge of honor he proudly carries in reference to Providence baseball, “but there are a lot players who have gone on to do a lot of great things and still carry the torch for the baseball team.”

In re-committing himself to the college where he placed himself in a position to get drafted in the 12th round of the 1996 Major League Baseball Draft by the Cleveland Indians, has McDonald ever gone up to Providence’s current leaders and asked about the chances of one day resurrecting baseball?

“Unfortunately, baseball is a non-revenue producing sport that requires a lot of financial assistance. It was great while it was there and a lot of people would love to have it back, but it’s not something for me to really comment on,” stated McDonald with fondness etched in his tone. “Providence College gave me a lot more than I ever thought it would. I’m really proud to have gone there and been a student-athlete before going on to get drafted. Ultimately, I’m really proud that I was able to get my degree.

“I took classes online with people helping me figure out which courses to take. I couldn’t be on campus because I was traveling a lot,” McDonald continued. “I really appreciate the opportunities that I was able to get just by being a Friar.”

***

Another opportunity that McDonald is grateful for is hooking on with a team with serious World Series aspirations. Acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies the night prior to the Sept. 1 roster expansion date for MLB clubs, the former Friar views his brief Red Sox tenure as a homecoming of sorts, one that comes after a L-O-N-G year of wandering in pro baseball’s proverbial second division.

“This is everything that I expected it to be. This team has been playing great baseball over the past couple of weeks, so it’s made it that more enjoyable,” said McDonald, who has been traded four times this season with Boston becoming the fourth major-league team he’s spent time with. “You have to realize that no matter how good or bad the year has gone or how much you move around, I look at the situation and can say that I’ve been in the big leagues all year.

“You have pinnacles of your sport as far as the levels you can reach. We all tend to look at the negatives, but there’s also a sense of accomplishment,” McDonald continued. “Moving around, it’s obviously been tough on my family, but now I get to live at home and come to the ballpark. It’s something that everyone has been able to enjoy and a culmination to what’s been a long year.”

The Red Sox acquired McDonald in an effort to shore up its middle infield depth for the final month of the regular season. More specifically, Boston wanted someone who could backup second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

“How much confidence he has, it’s something that rubs off on everybody,” McDonald said about the impression he’s been able to form regarding Boston’s spark plug. “He expects to be the best player on the field every time he walks on it and I think a lot more people should adopt that same attitude.”

McDonald sees himself as a “piece to the puzzle” and an “insurance policy.” He understood that he wasn’t a prime candidate to see much action with the Red Sox – Sunday’s regular season finale in Baltimore marked his sixth appearance with Boston and 51st game this year.

“You need guys who are ready to play regardless if they haven’t played in a couple of weeks,” said McDonald, who has appeared in more than 100 big-league games in a season just twice in his long career. “I love the aspect of staying sharp; you never know when your name is going to be called, so you’ve got to always be ready. As soon as you let your guard down and act like you’re never going to play, you’re not going to be very good. If you’re not in the lineup today, act like you are going to be in there tomorrow, or going into the game in the sixth inning.”

When you’ve been on the major-league carousal as long as McDonald has, you’re allowed to take part in some deep-seeded introspection.

“Every year has its moments that make it special; different teammates and different opportunities to play,” he expressed. “So many things have happened and in some ways, it feels like a long time, but it’s gone by fast.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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