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WVU Right Fielder Caleb McNeely Describes Hitting for Cycle



WVU Baseball right fielder/third baseman Caleb McNeely

It’s not every day that a community college player steps right in as the cleanup hitter for a Division 1 ballclub. Nevertheless, WVU right fielder Caleb McNeely did exactly that this season.

McNeely began his collegiate career at Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn. He redshirted his freshman year before the COVID-19 pandemic cut his sophomore campaign short. 

McNeely hit more than forty home runs across two full seasons at Walters State, playing for the Trenton Thunder of the MLB Draft league last summer in a bid to catch the eyes of a big-league franchise. McNeely said his time with the Thunder set the ball in motion that brought him to Morgantown.

“I was playing in the Draft League and one of my Draft League coaches knew Maze [head coach Randy Mazey],” McNeely said. “Maze was supposedly looking for a dude to recruit, and he got us in contact.” 

Mazey, for his part, praised McNeely for his defensive versatility.

“It’s really not easy. He’s playing multiple positions for us, he can play outfield and he plays third base some[times] for us. He’s been very versatile and we can put different lineups out there,” Mazey said. “Extremely valuable part of our team.”

From Community College to D1 Ball

McNeely said the jump from community college to Big 12 baseball didn’t scare him. Instead, he looked forward to showcasing his craft in front of a crowd.

“Definitely the crowds, that’s probably what I was looking forward to the most, playing in front of other people,” McNeely said. “Pitchers would be more efficient with their pitches [but] I didn’t think too much differently of the competition.”

McNeely didn’t miss a beat with West Virginia, stepping into the cleanup role during the Mountaineers’ opening weekend. He’s batting .330 on the season with an OPS of 1.093, both good for No. 2 on the team behind second baseman JJ Wetherholt’s lofty standards. He leads the team with eight home runs, and showcases his defensive versatility with a few starts at third base. McNeely made sure to emphasize the role of his teammates and coaches in his success at the plate.

“It’s honestly just awesome. Mazey does a great job controlling the game,” McNeely said. “My teammates, they just do a phenomenal job. Protecting me in the four-hole, getting runs whenever I’m not hot at the plate.”

McNeely also said that facing wily command pitchers like Ben Hampton and Blaine Traxel in practice helps him take a balanced approach at the plate.

“They help me keep my weight back, letting the pitch come to me,” McNeely said. “I’ve been diced up by both of them too many times and looked like a fool at the plate. [I] try not to look like a fool on TV, because I already look like a fool enough in practice [against them].”

Hitting for the Cycle

McNeely hit for the fourth cycle in 131-year history of Mountaineers baseball on Friday, March 31, helping WVU open their Big 12 schedule with a 8-3 win at Kansas State

McNeely said he was ready for a drawn-out slugfest in his first taste of conference play.

“I hadn’t had any caffeine that day, so I had to get a cup of coffee,” McNeely said. “I was just ready to play some baseball yesterday: I knew the game wasn’t gonna be over until we got the 27th out, and I was just ready to do my best to put us in the lead and put balls in play.”

With a driving wind to right field, the right-handed hitter said he used the opportunity to hit the ball the opposite way. 

“The wind definitely changes the approach, just trying to drive the ball backside,” McNeely said. “I knew I was going to get pitched outside, for the most part…that’s just how it’s been going for me for this entire season. With the wind and me just sitting, trying to drive the ball backside, it just ended up falling into place.”

McNeely hit a home run the opposite way in the second inning, jump starting the scoring for the Mountaineers. 

He hit a tie-breaking RBI single the next inning, putting him halfway to completing the feat one-third of the way through the game. 

The wind lent a helpful hand in the fifth inning, when McNeely lifted a fly ball to right field. With a de facto jet stream brewing overhead, the ball carried all the way to the wall. It missed clearing the fence by a matter of inches, containing McNeely to a double.

“I was just glad that it got to the wall, I thought he was just going to catch it on the warning track. I didn’t think it was gonna make it any further than the front of the wall, but the wind [carried it there],” McNeely said. 

While he missed out on another long ball, the high wall in right field kept his chance at the cycle alive. 

Head in the Game

McNeely completed the feat with one out in the ninth, tattooing a triple off the wall in center field. He said he didn’t keep track of his stats during the game. He didn’t realize he was going to hit for the cycle until he was in the process of doing so. 

“I didn’t realize that I was gonna hit for the cycle until I was about halfway to second base, after the ball hit off the wall in center field,” McNeely said. “Got to second base and I was like ‘oh my God, I’m about to hit for the cycle.’ I just had to keep going.”

Naturally, Mazey said that McNeely earned the game ball after hitting for the cycle. 

“If you’re gonna hit for the cycle you [need] power and speed. So, there’s not a ton of guys that are even capable of it,” Mazey said. “I gave him the game ball after the game for him to hang on to. He’ll always remember that day, the first time that’s happened in a long time here. It’s something to be very proud of.”

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