Hillsdale alum Chris McDonald is continuing his baseball career in the Pittsburg Pirates organization. (Photo: Chris McDonald / Courtesy)

McDonald was
on his way to the ballpark on July 3 when he got the call telling him that he wouldn’t be playing for the East Side Diamond Hoppers any longer. Instead, his contract had been purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“The first thing that happens [when your contract is purchased] is that you’re just so excited,” McDonald said. “But things weren’t official yet, so I kind of had to keep it on the down low.”

Things did become official, and now McDonald has pitched for the Gulf Coast League Pirates — the rookie-level class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates — for two months, boasting a 3.55 ERA, while only allowing three earned runs in his last 15 innings pitched.

“This is just a dream come true,” McDonald said. “It’s every young baseball player’s dream to get to play in the MLB.”

McDonald is being used in a long-relief role, often pitching three to four innings in the middle of a ballgame. Because his appearances are not scheduled, McDonald said he must always be prepared.

“There was a stretch where I went two weeks without pitching, but sometimes I only go a few days,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot of hard work. I never know when I am going to get in the game, but when I do, then I have to be sharp.”

Hillsdale College assistant coach Gordon Theisen said McDonald is up for the challenge.

“We do know that Chris will give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time, to do as well as he possibly can,” he said. “We know that he is going to make them think long and hard every single time that they see him pitch.”

While the Hillsdale coaching staff is happy for McDonald, his signing doesn’t come as a surprise to them.

“We knew that with his young age, size, and tools, he had a good chance of being picked up,” head coach Eric Theisen said. “It was still exciting when it actually happened.”

Traditionally a fastball and changeup pitcher, Mcdonald has worked hard in the last couple of years to further develop a breaking pitch, which will be crucial to his advancement through the ranks.

Mcdonald said his progression as a pitcher has been greatly aided by the professional coaching he has received.

“Every coach that I have here was either in the major leagues or coached in the major leagues,” McDonald said. “They have been around. They know what it takes.”

In addition to coaching, McDonald — a two-way player at Hillsdale — has benefitted from being able to focus solely on his performance on the mound.

“In college, I had to balance pitching and playing a position,” he said. “Now my arm is able to get fully rested when I’m not pitching.”

McDonald also said the Pirates organization offers him much more than on-field development, which is something he sees as an extension of his Hillsdale experience.

“I can’t thank Hillsdale enough, especially for the opportunity to play baseball,” he said. “The cool thing about the Pirates organization is that they really focus on the aspect of becoming a man on and off the field. It’s cool to make that transition from something so close to Hillsdale.”

As the season draws to a close, McDonald hopes for more of the same on the mound.

“I think the goal is just to continue the way I am pitching,” McDonald said. “I want to stay on that pace where I am getting better every time I go out there.”

After spending a month at home with his family in October, McDonald will head back down to Florida for the winter to continue training.

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Stevan Bennett Jr. is a senior from the pumpkin capital of the world, Morton, Illinois. He is studying economics and journalism, and plans on attending law school after Hillsdale. He has written for the Collegian since 2014 and is the sports editor. His addictions include coffee, the Chicago Cubs, NHL 2015, and miscellaneous adventuring. email: | twitter: @StevanBennett