Picking up a baseball as early as he could walk, Shane McClanahan refused to let anything keep him away from the game he loves.
It took nearly two years for McClanahan to finally take the mound at the USF Baseball Stadium after signing with USF in 2015, but now that he’s available, the hard-throwing lefty is making his presence felt.
In his second season as a Bull, the 19-year old Cape Coral native has made a full recovery from Tommy John surgery, and has emerged as the USF’s Saturday night starter in 2017, contributing to the Bulls’ best start in school history.
USF’s 23-5 record to start its 2017 campaign comes a year after an abysmal 2016 season where the Bulls won 24 games in total, their worst record in 10 years.
While the Bulls were struggling on the diamond, the recovering McClanahan was forced to watch helplessly from the dugout, dealing with his own struggles off the field.
Before ever stepping on the mound in a Bulls uniform, McClanahan underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, sending him through a trying nine-months of rehab that tested his resiliency.
“It was really tough,” McClanahan said. “(There were) multiple times that I didn’t know if I’d be able to recover to the way I was before.”
Returning to his pre-surgery form wasn’t a given either.
According to a study on hardballtimes.com, one in five major league pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery never return to play in the majors.
Despite the physical hardships that accompanied the injury, it wasn’t the physical pain that was the hardest thing for McClanahan.
“The hardest thing during recovery was the first game of last season,” McClanahan said. “It stunk to be on the sideline, not able to help guys out, or the team, knowing I wouldn’t be able to for an entire season. Especially having the type of season we had last year, it was sort of a double-whammy.”
Being on the bench wasn’t something McClanahan was used to either.
A star at Cape Coral High School, McClanahan earned numerous awards his senior year, including First-Team All-Florida, All-Conference, All-Area, and Honorable Mention All-American.
Along with his dominance on the mound, McClanahan was also stellar at the plate – batting .351 his senior season – and playing in every game, not just the on the nights he pitched, making the 2016 season at USF even tougher.
Despite the adversity, McClanahan persevered.
When it came to his rehab, McClanahan leaned on those closest to him, turning to his parents, and best friend — USF quarterback Brett Kean — to push him to recover as quick as possible in ways outside of the direct rehab on his elbow.
“Brett’s my boy,” McClanahan said with a laugh. “We’re pretty much always together, and he’s my biggest fan outside of my parents.”
While McClanahan was going through intensive rehab with athletic trainer Josh Herron, Kean kept McClanahan sane, giving the pitcher a much-needed mental break from the constant recovery process.
“We’re always cracking jokes together and having fun,” Kean said. “There’d be times I’d go and say to him, ‘Let’s just go and grab something to eat, just get your mind off of it.’”
Even when they were off the field, McClanahan’s desire to return to the mound stood out to Kean over all else.
“He was always itching to get back,” Kean said. “I remember how excited he was to throw again for the first time, and then the same for his first bullpen. He was the one that was so determined to get back, and I was just there along the way.”
Nine months after surgery, McClanahan was finally back.
Throwing his first full post-surgery bullpen in the summer of 2016, McClanahan had officially made a full recovery and was ready to do what made him one of the most highly sought-out pitching recruits in the nation – overpower hitters, and win games.
Starting 2017 with 53 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched, McClanahan has done just that.
“He’s very talented, you just don’t see many left-handed pitchers with his build, and his arm speed at this young of an age,” USF coach Mark Kingston said.
McClanahan was a member of coach Kingston’s first recruiting class as head coach of USF.
Ranked the seventh best recruiting class in the nation by D1baseball.com, McClanahan was one of the class’s top recruits.
“A lot of different schools wanted him, so we recruited him hard,” Kingston said. “We sold him on the vision of what we thought we could do here together, how we could help him improve his game, and he bought into it. He’s very happy with it, and we’re very happy with it as well.”
USF was far from the only school that was after McClanahan, with Florida Gulf Coast, and Miami fighting hard, but unsuccessfully to snatch him away from the Bulls.
“The atmosphere, and up-beat energy (USF) had just really attracted me to the program, and I made the best decision of my life,” McClanahan said. “Something’s good here, I really like the energy and culture. Plus, the coaches here are phenomenal.”
McClanahan’s teammates also had praise for his character on and off the field.
“He’s in every game and he’s cheering guys on,” said fellow pitcher Phoenix Sanders. “He’s another guy we can rely on day-in, and day-out, works hard, and is a great teammate. Plus, the 96 mile per hour fastball certainly helps.”
With three years of playing eligibility left after this season, McClanahan looks to continue his current success throughout his college career, and eventually into the big leagues, which is his ultimate goal.
Regardless of where McClanahan ends up after his time at USF is up, his fight to be able to play the game he loves will always stick with him.
“Being able to play baseball again,” he said. “I think that’s my favorite moment throughout my entire career.”