The next time you attend a baseball game at J.O. Christian Field, you’ll be able to hear pitching coach Josh MacDonald long before you see him, even though he doesn’t realize it: Barking not-so-nice words at the umpire after every borderline call (and some that aren’t even close); defending his players’ every inch.
“It’s kind of embarrassing that you guys can hear me sometimes,” MacDonald joked. “There’s not a lot of nice words that come out if you’re able to hear me.”
It’s a useful attitude that came from his old days as a pitcher: As a pitching coach, you want your players to know you have their backs, and to know that you’ll fight their battles for them.
“Coach Mac,” as the team knows him, started out playing for Notre Dame High School of West Haven until 2001, then moved on to UConn, where he pitched in 154 innings, posting a 10-8 record and a 4.85 ERA with 86 career strikeouts. He would, of course, argue it should have been more.
“I was watching NESN the other day and [Dennis] Eckersley said that he thought he had to fight for every inch, and I felt that way when I was playing,” MacDonald said. “I thought that every pitch was a strike, I thought I could get every call, and I thought I could negotiate my way into them.”
MacDonald had a bit of a roller-coaster career with the Huskies. He began as a starter his freshman year, but a rough sophomore year pushed him back to the bullpen. Most pitchers would have seen that as a demotion of sorts, but with his fiery attitude, MacDonald preferred it.
“My competitive self enjoyed coming out of the pen because you thought you were playing every day,” MacDonald said. “I loved coming to the yard and thinking that I was gonna get out there every game.”
His first time around at UConn was also when he met Jim Penders for the first time, a relationship that’s lasted 15 years and running.
“I had a really good relationship with coach Penders when I was here, he always felt like more than a coach to me,” MacDonald said.
The two complement each other nicely in the dugout, too. MacDonald wears his heart on his sleeve while Penders is quieter, more reserved. MacDonald actually earned the first win in Penders’ career, an 8-3 victory over Butler in 2004.
After MacDonald left Storrs in 2006, he spent time as pitching coach for Long Island University and the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod League before UConn came calling again.
“It was a no-brainer,” MacDonald said.
In his second time around at UConn, MacDonald has done as much for the program as any pitching coach at any school in the country. How many others can say they basically built a national powerhouse from scratch?
MacDonald is the only pitching coach in the nation to recruit and develop All-Americans in five consecutive years: Carson Cross in 2015, Anthony Kay in 2016, John Russell in 2017 and Mason Feole and P.J. Poulin in 2018.
This year he’s got similar talent to work with. Feole already has plenty of accolades under his belt, flamethrower Jacob Wallace has allowed a single earned run through 23 innings pitched this year and youngsters Jimmy Wang, Colby Dunlop, Caleb Wurster and Karl Johnson have all shown incredible upside this year.
“He’s incredible at what he does. You see our staff this year and you know how intelligent he is, how competitive he is, the attitude that he brings to the ballpark really does rub off on all of us,” Feole said. “To have him as our pitching coach, we are really lucky.”
Although everyone always cites the competitiveness as what “Coach Mac” brings to the team, he knows when to lighten the mood with jokes in practice as well. It’s the secret sauce that contributes to UConn’s continued success at the pitcher position.
“He is a jokester and a half, he makes us laugh, he keeps us loose and that’s what an awesome coach does,” Feole said. “He keeps guys loose out of competition, but when the ball’s in play it’s go-time.”
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.