Close encounters of the McCarthy kind

Close encounters of the McCarthy kind

In Roswell, New Mexico, alien eyes are etched upon the street lights. The McDonalds is shaped like a spaceship.

Townsfolk, especially the older ones, who remember the 1947 “incident,” can sometimes be overheard saying, ‘Yep, I saw one the other day.”

Roswell, New Mexico embraces its status as UFO Capital of America.

Roswell, New Mexico should also embrace Mike McCarthy. The Wallingford native, playing baseball this summer for the Roswell Invaders in the independent Pecos League, launched an array of space shots to lead the local club to the league championship.

These flying objects were identifiable: four home runs, six hits total, seven RBIs in the two games it took Roswell to gun down the Las Vegas Train Robbers in the best-of-three championship series. McCarthy, who also handled the catching, was named postseason MVP.

Beam him up, someone.

McCarthy’s former high school coach, for one, hopes an affiliated organization will. “I wish somebody would give him a shot,” said Lyman Hall skipper Chuck Burghardt.

Independent baseball leagues like the Pecos feature players like McCarthy, undrafted out of college, looking to keep skills sharp and earn a little play while keeping big league hopes alive. Long odds, perhaps, but not impossible. Witness Daniel Nava, an independent leaguer who has latched on with the Red Sox.

The Pecos League, a short-season circuit established three years ago, was a natural fit for McCarthy, who had been playing at The University of Texas-Pan American since transferring from the University of Vermont when baseball at that school became a Title IX casualty.

Pan American is in Edinburg. The Pecos League, headquartered in Houston, has eight teams scattered through New Mexico, west Texas and southern Colorado.

During the winter, McCarthy signed on with Roswell with one of the pitchers he handled on the Pan American staff. Two Pan American infielders later joined them in that eastern New Mexico town of 50,000 known for irrigation farming, ranching and petroleum production, but most famous for an alleged UFO incident in the summer of 1947.

What’s known for certain is that an object crashed in the barren high plains outside of town. What’s disputed is just what that object was. The U.S. military has maintained it was a high-altitude helium weather/surveillance balloon. UFO theorists claim it was an alien craft -- with aliens inside -- and that the military has covered it up.

Be it fact or science fiction, the Roswell business community has made the story its tourist magnet.

“You could not escape alien stuff. It was everywhere,” McCarthy reports. “It was definitely different than Wallingford, Connecticut.”

Yes, and so were the uniforms. No more Lyman Hall orange and blue. The Roswell Invaders wore black and space-age green.

Then again, McCarthy has grown accustomed to extremes.

After all, he’d gone from the artsy college town of Burlington, Vt. to the edge of No Country for Old Men.

“Right on the border. It was absolutely completely different, 100 percent,” McCarthy chuckled.

“Driving away from there, no wonder aliens came here. There’s not much.

“It was cool, though. I’d have never been down here if it weren’t for baseball.”

The Pecos League, though young and not as established as the bigger independent circuits like the 20-year-old Frontier League, had some talent, McCarthy reported. Most players were young, fresh out of college, eager to earn a call from an affiliated club or even one from one of the larger indies.

McCarthy is no different. He batted .328 and caught 52 regular-season games. He was an 0-fer in the first playoff series with the Alpine Cowboys, gave himself a good talking-to, then simply went into orbit in the championship set.

“That’s baseball. It’s a roller coaster,” he said.

“Some days you go up there and change-ups look 93. It was one of those series that went well.”

After it was over, McCarthy drove back to Edinburg to continue working out. Maybe a phone call will come. If not, he’ll fly back to Connecticut next week and continue baseball training at home. Maybe an invite to spring training or even just to workout for a team will be forthcoming there.

“Hopefully I can get a call within the next week or so and keep on playing somewhere else for the rest of the year,” he said. “If not, I’ll head back home and start working for next year and see what happens.”

It’s the life of a free agent not ready to abandon the game just yet. Fact or science fiction? Who’s to say so long as the story is still writing itself.

Daniel Nava may as well have come to the Major Leagues from Mars, he was such a long shot. And scouts’ eyes, like those on the streetlights of Roswell, do seem to be everywhere.

“Baseball’s crazy; you just never know,” said McCarthy. “You see a lot of great players (in the independent leagues), a lot of guys where you say, ‘Why are you not somewhere?’ A lot of people can’t explain it.”


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