Her world: Gamecocks female bullpen catcher, first of her kind

McFadden is the first female NCAA Division I bullpen catcher at a Power Five University
More on Meredith Mcfadden, the Gamecock's historic bullpen catcher
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 12:51 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - South Carolina’s baseball team lists 55 people as a part of its operations and roster but the bullpen catcher is not one of them, despite head coach Mark Kingston explaining how important the role is for teams.

“That’s a really important role for a team. There’s big league catchers that that’s their full-time job in the major leagues, is their a bullpen catcher, and for us it’s just as important,” Kingston said.

The bullpen catcher falls somewhere between a player and a coach and even a trainer for a ball club.

It takes a special person who typically won’t ever see the spotlight and won’t even see their name on the roster.

Still, the Gamecocks bullpen catcher is proving to be truly one of a kind.

“The role of that position is very important to us,” Kingston explained. “Number one you want it to be somebody that is trustworthy. You want it to be somebody that is talented enough to handle our type of pitching staff, which is extremely talented. You want it to be somebody that you respect their opinion.”

The Gamecocks were in need of a new bullpen catcher this year so they held a tryout over the summer. They were hoping to find their guy and instead found their girl.

“Meredith (McFadden) is all of those things and her role for us is important because every pitcher that she’s down there [with], every pitch she catches down there for us, is one less that a Cole Messina has to catch. Which keeps him fresher for the games,” said Kingston.

McFadden has been playing baseball since she was four years old and quickly felt at home behind the plate.

“Baseball is just like a second language for me,” she said. “I think it’s all just very natural to me. I’ve been a catcher my whole life and you have to have a pretty high baseball IQ to see the whole field and make a plan for the game from that position and be authoritative with it and know what you’re talking about.”

She was the varsity catcher for the baseball team at Olympic High School in Charlotte, N.C. While many of her teammates went to play college baseball out of high school, her opportunity would take an extra year. McFadden had her heart set on attending South Carolina, aware baseball might not be in the cards for her in Columbia. Still she took a swing and sent an email her freshman year, offering her services if a spot ever came up.

She heard nothing back, until last summer. The Gamecocks said they were holding a tryout for a bullpen catcher, and they invited her out.

“I definitely was nervous at first to say the wrong thing because I wanted to make a reputation for myself to prove to the coaches that they can trust me and prove to the pitchers that they can trust me and that I have knowledge in the game that can help them,” said McFadden.

That trust is vital.

“Coach Parker is going to ask her, ‘hey what did you think about this guy? Or that guy? Or how’s his curveball there or did he have control?” explained Kingston of her responsibilities.

The job tasks, no problem for McFadden.

“It’s just second nature so most of these things are just instincts that come to me and things that I just naturally see,” said McFadden. “I think it’s been pretty easy to be able to relay those back to the coaching staff and to the pitchers.”

The job description is fairly straightforward on game days but the rest of the week she’s busy helping guys prepare for their rotation or rehabilitate from injuries.

“She does a good job helping us,” said sophomore pitcher Eli Jones. “She tells us what she sees and that gives us a lot of feedback to help us improve.”

McFadden is the first female NCAA Division I bullpen catcher at a power five University but she is a part of a growing number of women making a mark in baseball.

“A lot of those women in baseball and the MLB are great mentors to me, great friends of mine,” said McFadden.

A part of USA Baseball since she was 12, McFadden participated in development programs targeted at girls in baseball. Skills were the primary focus but mentorship became the foundation.

“I’ve been able to see them work their way up through the rankings and talk through all these processes that I’m going through,” said McFadden. “I’ve had them by my side every step of the way and that’s been super crucial to keeping me in it and keeping my confidence in it because I could see them succeed at that high level and it just encourages me to keep going at what I want my goals to be, even if [people on] the outside don’t think it’s possible.”

South Carolina recognized her talent before her gender and that’s all McFadden says she can ask for.

“They trusted me, and that’s the biggest thing,” she said. “In my position especially you can’t just throw anyone out there because it’s dangerous. "

Not just anyone can handle 100-mile-per-hour fastballs or the cuts and curves of a Division I players pitches.

“I’m happy they trusted me as a ballplayer and treat me like one of the guys, treat me like a teammate,” McFadden said. “I love it.”

McFadden is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina and plans to catch the bullpen the remainder of her college career. Afterward, she hopes to see just how far baseball can take her.