On the Road: Satchel McElroy loves the game

Billings Mustangs outfielder carries on a proud family tradition

Satchel McElroy comes from a family of ballplayers, including a grandfather who caught Satchel Paige. (Paul Ruhter/Billings Mustangs)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | June 23, 2017 10:00 AM

Satchel Paige, who titled his autobiography Maybe I'll Pitch Forever, came as close to that impossibility as anyone ever has. In 1965, at the age of 59, the famously loose-limbed, eternally restless right-hander finished his sprawling career by tossing three scoreless innings for the Kansas City A's.

Despite Paige's outsized influence on baseball and American culture at large, it took a half-century for another player named Satchel to appear in a professional ballgame. That player is Satchel McElroy, a fleet-footed outfielder drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015 and currently in his second season with the Rookie-level Billings Mustangs. 

McElroy, 20, has been immersed in the game of baseball his entire life. His father, Chuck McElroy, pitched for nine teams over a Major League career that spanned from 1989 to 2001. His uncle, Cecil Cooper, collected 2,192 hits over 17 MLB seasons and went on to manage the Houston Astros. His older brother, C.J. McElroy , was drafted by St. Louis in 2011 and is currently with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. His grandfather, Sylvester Cooper, was a catcher in the Negro Leagues. And that's where Satchel comes in.

"Actually, back in the day, the Negro Leagues, my grandpa caught Satchel Paige," said McElroy, a soft-spoken Texan with a Southern drawl and a ready smile. "They were great buddies -- they were traveling around all the time. So that's how I got my name, from my grandpa, because he caught Satchel Paige."

As a kid growing up in Texas, McElroy was eager to learn about his namesake.

"Any book about Satchel Paige, I read it," he said. "My grandpa had old books about him, said 'Read this.' I'm like, 'Alright!' I read it. [Paige's] style of pitching, he had the high leg kick. Kinda threw everybody off. So, it's unique."

McElroy said baseball is "in his blood," and that he never had any doubt about doing his part to continue his family's multi-generational national pastime legacy.

"There wasn't any pressure [to play baseball]," he said. "I wanted to do it because I love the game. And it's like they say: 'You love the game, the game will love you back.' So I love this game. Not because my dad played or my brother played or my uncle played or my grandpa played, but because I love it. So I'm trying to follow in their footsteps to get to where they were. But, I mean, it all comes from me. I love the game."

The Major League pedigrees of their father and uncle gave the McElroy brothers a literal front-row seat to the game at its highest level.  

"Man, growing up, I remember being in a locker room and meeting Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken Jr. I met Barry Larkin. Eric Davis," said McElroy. "And the same thing with my uncle, man. We'd go to Astros games when he was coaching and I'd have front-row seats and watch the game. And after the game, invited into the clubhouse, meeting all the guys and getting all the bubble gum."

 And in the clubhouse or out of it, baseball has always been the number one topic of conversation at family gatherings.

"That's all we talk about is baseball. Situations of the game and … that's it!" said McElroy with a laugh. "My whole life they just talk about baseball, baseball, baseball. But it's like I said: I didn't put pressure on myself. I was always just open-minded to learn about new things."

2017 Road Trip

But whereas their father was a relief pitcher, their uncle a power-hitting first baseman and their grandfather a catcher, McElroy and older brother C.J. are both speedy outfielders. Satchel said he models his game after players such as Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Rickey Henderson and Kenny Lofton.

"Speed's coming back, man. Definitely, speed's coming back," he said. "Speed kills. It's a threat on the bases, because pitchers, they get discombobulated and don't know what to do."

McElroy is very much in the early stages of his professional baseball journey; he's accumulated just 206 at-bats over his first two short-season campaigns. 2017 marks his second go-round with the Pioneer League Billings Mustangs, who opened their season earlier this week.

"Love it, love it," said McElroy on suiting up as a professional. "Like they say, it's a process. It's a process every day; you learn something new every day. Especially making adjustments on the fly, how you get adapted to new environments. Overall I just love it, man. It's just a great atmosphere to be around."

Maybe he'll play forever. 

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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