When C.J. McElroy was young, the first toy he remembers having, at age 3, was a bat.
If you step back and look at who McElroy had around him, it’s easy to see why. His baseball lineage runs deep. When McElroy was born, his father, Chuck, was a left-handed reliever in the majors for the Cubs.
His uncle, Cecil Cooper, was a first baseman and designated hitter in the majors for 17 years (1971-87), and a five-time All-Star. Cooper also managed the Astros from 2007 to 2009. McElroy’s grandfather, Sylvester Cooper, played in the Negro Leagues and caught for Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige.
So McElroy’s immersion in baseball was natural. He grew up around it and saw what life in the pros was like at a young age.
“And I was like, ‘Hey, I can do this. And this is something I want to do in the future,’ ” McElroy said.
McElroy, like his father, was drafted out of high school. The outfielder is now in his eighth season as a pro himself, and was signed by the Giants organization last week out of the independent Atlantic League.
On Saturday, McElroy was assigned to the Flying Squirrels. “Getting back to that affiliated ball again and just getting adjusted, it’s going to take time,” McElroy said Tuesday.
As McElroy grew up in a family full of baseball players, his father told him that there’s no pressure. He was advised to go out and have fun. Another tenet McElroy received along the way was that if he just loved the game, the game would love him back. The sentiment has carried him throughout his career.
At Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, McElory wasn’t just a standout in baseball, but in football, too. Before he was drafted, McElory signed to play football and baseball at Houston. He was a slot receiver and returner.
But after the Cardinals picked him in the third round of the 2011 draft, McElroy decided to sign and forgo college. It was a tough decision, which took him about two weeks to make.
“I just dreamed about it, just like, ‘What was my first toy I picked up? It was a bat,’ ” McElroy said.
McElroy competed in track and field in high school, too, and the same speed and explosion that helped him there and on the gridiron are evident on the diamond. The 5-10 180-pounder has 151 career stolen bases, including a career-high 41 over 130 games in Single-A in 2014.
The 25-year-old missed 2017 while recovering from an ACL tear. He spent last year in the Reds organization — which his younger brother, Satchel (named after Paige), played in for four years — then began this season with the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters in the Atlantic League. He hit .365 in 17 games before the Giants added him.
McElroy’s name is recognized in the Squirrels’ front office. Chief executive Chuck Domino and vice president and chief operating officer Todd Parnell were the general manager and assistant general manager, respectively, of the Double-A Reading Phillies. McElroy’s father, who was drafted by the Phillies in 1986, played with Reading in 1988 and 1989. He went on to pitch 13 seasons in the majors.
“I had a good time talking to C.J. and getting to know him just a little bit, and I can see the resemblance in the personalities [with Chuck McElroy] as far as being really nice and kind,” Parnell said.
As he continues to work toward the majors, McElroy has decades of baseball experience in his family helping to guide him.
“My dad, he’s always talking about the mental side, just, ‘Hey, go out there and use the talent that God gave you and stop worrying about everything, and just go out there and go play,’ ” McElroy said. Tuesday’s game: The Squirrels won their third game in a row Tuesday night, 8-4, in the first game of their three-game set against the visiting Reading Fightin Phils. Jonah Arenado and Hamlet Marte drove in three runs apiece. Marte had a bases-clearing double in the first inning. Arenado had a two-run home run in the seventh. Richmond (15-25) and Reading (22-17) resume their series at 6:35 p.m. on Wednesday at The Diamond.