By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hawaii Stars first baseman Marshall McDonald is from North Carolina, where basketball is king and dedication to the sport is best understood by those born with blue blood.
“I’m a Tar Heels fan all the way,” he said, when asked if he prefers the Tar Heels of Chapel Hill lore or neighbor North Carolina State, about 30 miles away. “I’ve been a fan since I was young. Football is my favorite.”
It figures McDonald, no relation to singer Michael McDonald, would have a passion for the gridiron. He’s built like a linebacker at 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, and played football and baseball at Red Springs High. His dad, Bryan, was the baseball coach.
“That was interesting,” said McDonald, who counts himself as a country music fan. “It was good and bad. When you come home, baseball never stops, especially the coaching part. But it was fun and I had a great time playing for my dad.”
McDonald played college ball at Montreat College, an NAIA school in North Carolina. He graduated with a communications degree in 2012 but wasn’t selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
He stayed in shape, worked as a personal trainer and coached middle school baseball in his hometown of Red Springs. McDonald played in a winter ball league, run by Garry Templeton II, in January in Puerto Rico.
“He swings the bat pretty well. He’s a big guy who hits the ball gap to gap and has some power,” said G2, Hawaii’s manager.
McDonald showed his power with a two-run homer in Hawaii’s 13-3 victory over the East Bay Lumberjacks on Tuesday night at Wong Stadium, where the 150 or so fans were treated to a Stars 14-hit offensive fireworks display.
Matt Stropoli (1-1, 7.87 ERA) is expected to start Wednesday and Onan Masaoka (1-3, 7.57) will get the nod in Thursday’s three-game series finale.
Katsuaki Furuki was the brightest of Stars; he went 2 for 5 with three RBIs. Matt Hibbert went 2 for 5 with two RBIs, Tyler Krobetzky was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and McDonald batted 1 for 3 with two RBIs.
Dallas Mahan pitched six scoreless innings for his 51st win in 12 years of independent pro ball. He allowed two hits and three walks and whiffed four. He’s 2-0 with a 1.92 ERA, after going 0-7 with a 3.54 ERA last season.
Ask any Star what’s his biggest wish and the answer is always the same.
“I want to make it to the major leagues one day,” McDonald said. “I’m getting back to where I was. I have to keep hitting the ball hard like I did in winter league.
“I’m going to keep playing as long as I see myself improving. When it’s obvious I can’t do what I know I can do and am not hitting well, then I’ll consider hanging it up. Right now, I’m doing what I need to do.”
For the season, McDonald, 24, is batting .291 with two homers and seven RBIs in 15 games and 55 at-bats.
Communication majors usually have sharp memories and know how to cleanly get a point across. And that’s the case with McDonald, who can talk like a smooth public relations director when it comes to his Tar Heels.
It’s the first time in the 66 years of the College World Series that both the Tar Heels and Wolfpack have reached the national championship. They’re in the same bracket and North Carolina State beat the Tar Heels 8-1 on Sunday.
He knows his Tar Heels baseball history, too. It’s UNC’s 10th trip to Omaha, Neb., site of the World Series, where a championship has proven elusive. The Tar Heels made appearances four straight years from 2006 to ‘09 and in 2011, too, coming up empty each time.
“They’re a really good team. But they struggled against North Carolina State,” explained McDonald in a PR response that’s known as polishing the positive. “They’ve got a good shot to win it. They’ve been the best team in the country.”
Like McDonald, the Tar Heels will keep swinging away.