Chase High School graduate Chipper McGinnis remembers watching the Forest City Owls' first game on May 29, 2008 thinking that one day he would like to don the green and gold uniform and toe the rubber at McNair Field. Now 12 years later, he will get that chance.
"I remember when I was a little kid and that first game when the Owls came on the field. They were like rock stars," McGinnis said. "Several thousand people (2,675) were lined all the way back to the street to watch them play. In my mind they were like Major Leaguers. I have always wanted to play for the Forest City Owls."
When McGinnis steps on the diamond, he will have more of a home field advantage than just playing for the team he grew up watching. His dad Andy, a Forest City Parks and Recreation employee, is one of the groundskeepers that maintains McNair Field year round and prepares it for play on game days during the summer.
"It means a lot that Chipper chose to play here this summer," Andy McGinnis said. "He could have chosen to play other places, but he wanted to come back home so I and the rest of his family could see him play. I am very proud of him."
"When my college coach at Lenoir-Rhyne asked where I wanted to play this summer, I really didn't even have to think about it," Chipper said. "I knew I wanted to come home to Forest City. There is just something special about playing baseball here in Rutherford County. To think that I will be pitching from the same mound I sometimes helped Dad work on when I was younger, not many people get to say that."
Chipper is certainly no stranger to baseball in Rutherford County having played on many dominant teams over the years including the 2016 Jr. Legion State Championship team and the Sr. Legion team that posted an undefeated regular season in 2018. He also helped lead Chase to a playoff appearance in 2019.
Not surprisingly, Chipper modeled the way he plays after his namesake, future MLB Hall of Fame player Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves.
"I grew up watching Chipper Jones, and try to play the way he did," Chipper said. "Then as I got a little older, I kind of developed my own style to mix with it."
Chase head coach Tony Wall believes that style of play will fit well with the Forest City Owls.
"Playing with the Owls this summer will be great for his (Chipper's) development going forward," Wall said. "He will get a chance to compete in a great league and in front of his hometown. I know everyone is excited to be able to see him play because of the reputation he earned in this community. I wish him the best of luck and I know he's going to perform well this summer."
Forest City owner Phil Dangel is also excited for Chipper's homecoming.
"We think Chipper is a big addition to our staff," he said. "No team can ever have too much left-handed pitching. The fact that he is a hometown Owl makes it extra special."
Chipper won't be the only hometown Owl on the 2020 roster as former East Rutherford players Kendall McGowan and Storm Mace are also on the team.
"I have played with those guys (Legion) and against them (high school) almost every step of the way," Chipper said. "It will be fun to play with them again at this level."
Both Chipper and Andy are hopeful that the Owls will indeed play this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We need baseball right now," Andy said. "It would be good for everybody. If there is one good thing about not having many games this year (Legion and high school baseball), the field has been able to rest and we have been able to put in some extra work on it. It looks great."
"My college season was cut short," Chipper added. "If I don't get to play this summer it will be very hard to get ready to play next year. That's why I'm so excited for this opportunity and I can't wait to get started."