FSU's Tony McQuade, with the confidence of his coach behind him, made sure no one would second-guess his starting in leftfield.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002
Tony McQuade had just finished shagging balls before the start of an ACC tournament game last year when Florida State coach Mike Martin beckoned him.
"Tony. You're our leftfielder next year," Martin said.
"You sure?" said an excited but startled McQuade, a seldom-used freshman backup to All-American John-Ford Griffin.
"Yes. You've proven to me that you would get out here and work and I'm telling you right now, it's yours to lose," Martin said.
In his storied, 22-year career at FSU, Martin never had made such a commitment.
McQuade hasn't made him regret it. He is the second-leading hitter at .375 with 26 doubles, 44 RBIs and 61 runs for the top-ranked, according to Baseball America, and top-seeded Seminoles, who host Notre Dame in super-region play.
"I knew coming in that I would have the opportunity to start," he said. "So, I worked real hard over the summer."
McQuade didn't just work out to round into better shape. He worked himself into a new shape.
Returning to a trainer who helped him before his senior year at Gainesville Buchholz High, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound McQuade combined a rigorous five-day-a-week strength program with a strict diet to reduced his body fat from 16.5 percent to 8.5.
"He was looking a little pudgy and I kind of crammed (the program) down his throat like I did before," said Glen Williams, a certified personal trainer who has known McQuade for years. "I told him if he didn't do everything I told him to do, he wouldn't start and he might as well get out of baseball.
McQuade, 20, whose baseball aspirations extend beyond college, made sure he got plenty of sleep, swore off sweets and resisted his favorite food, buffalo wings. Instead, he ate five or six meals a day and lots of skinless chicken, yellow rice or baked potatoes and tossed salads with low-fat dressing.
"He was very determined and very disciplined," said Lani McQuade, his mother. "He stayed strong and would say, "Mom, can you get me some more chicken breasts? Can you get more carrots?' I just made sure I had all that stuff for him. Eating as often as he needed to do, all I kept seeing was the grocery bills going up."
And his body fat going down.
"After a week, he started seeing the results and I just stepped out of his way and let him do it," Williams said.
Meanwhile, McQuade recognized he didn't tire as quickly, so he could work out and practice longer and harder. The change is startling and unmistakable.
"As we started in the fall, I said to myself, "Gosh. That bat's gotten quicker,' " Martin said. "Then I looked at him and said, "His arms are huge. This guy does have the ability to create some pop for us.' " Any lingering doubts were gone by mid February.
He went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI against then-No. 1 Stanford and the Cardinal's ace, Jeremy Guthrie. The next weekend, he went 5-for-6, including three doubles and two RBIs, against then-No. 5 Arizona State.
McQuade, like most freshmen coming to a powerhouse program like FSU, went from being the star to understudy. He had just 27 at-bats in 25 games and hit .259.
"That's a gut check," he said. "I've seen plenty of guys sit a year like that and then they transfer; they don't think they got a fair shot or the coach didn't like them. I actually went through that before."
At Buchholz, he became the first freshman to make the varsity team since Doug Johnson. And he barely played. All he heard was how he should have asked to be on junior varsity, where he would have been a regular.
"But the fact that I was there, I learned the system, I got some game experience and that prepared me for the next year tremendously; way more than the guys who came up the next year from JV," he said. "Not being thrown in last year benefited me. It was just a matter of getting over it mentally."
His mother, the longtime secretary and office manager for the Florida women's basketball team who received a bit of good-natured ribbing when her son signed with FSU, marveled at how well he managed to wait patiently.
"You could get discouraged easily," she said. "I was excited to see him in the dugout. I brought my binoculars and looked down there. But last summer, he was just determined he was going to make some big changes."
He has. "I really did not think he could have this type of year," Martin said. Surely, he had an inkling when he promised him the starting job a year ago, right?
"Coach Martin knows a good player when he sees one," Wake Forest coach George Greer said. "He's made every play and has done everything Coach Martin could have asked from him."