AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event He admits he began drinking heavily, and this was coupled with the discovery of a dark family secret. McCarney imploded. He never made it to Cal Poly, blowing an important opportunity. “The whole situation just happened too fast. I was really depressed,” McCarney said. “It was very tough for me. I moved in with my biological mom in Pismo Beach, and a bunch of things came up that I’d rather not talk about. Basically, I learned that I’d been lied to for the last eight years.” McCarney, 19, today is piecing his life back together. Clean and sober, he has returned to Vasquez as a junior-varsity coach and, after a four-month break, has begun throwing a baseball again with renewed dreams of reaching the big leagues. “It’s been important to take a year off to mature mentally and physically,” he said. “It’s been tough coming back because this is a small town, and everyone gossips and knows everyone’s business. But I’m not listening to any of that. I’m more concerned about being healthy and happy.” Vasquez coach Bob James and McCarney’s private coach, Jim Wagner, both Santa Clarita residents, have helped McCarney pull through a difficult adjustment into adulthood. ACTON – The greatest pitching arm in the world doesn’t mean a thing if your head isn’t in the right place. That’s a lesson China McCarney has learned the hard way. A small-town baseball hero at Vasquez High last season, thanks to a 94-mph fastball and terrific hitting skills, McCarney was coveted by Major League scouts and NCAA Division I college programs – a rare gem at an otherwise nondescript desert school of just 500 students. Projected as a 10th-round draft choice – which could have meant a signing bonus of $200,000 – McCarney, figuring education always would be important, instead declared his intention to accept a scholarship to Cal Poly, so he wasn’t drafted. McCarney moved to San Luis Obispo last summer to become acclimated, and he soon realized he wasn’t ready to be on his own. Both can relate to being prized prospects. James was a first-round draft choice from Verdugo Hills High of Tujunga who made it to the majors, and Wagner was a small-schools phenom at tiny Providence High of Burbank who signed with Arizona before transferring to Cal State Northridge. “We all know that teenagers go through different problems, and China had a heck of a lot rushing at him so fast,” James said. “I can empathize with him because I know what it’s like to be a kid on a roller coaster and you can’t get off. That’s what happened to him.” Wagner believes McCarney couldn’t recover from the small-town hero syndrome. “China definitely had some issues he went through, and being who he is in a small town like Acton isn’t easy,” Wagner said. “He’s got all the God-given talent in the world but needed some time to grow up. Baseball-wise, he’s the same today as he was last year, but I think he’s more mature now and able to handle everything.” McCarney’s fastball was clocked at 91 mph last week despite all the slack time. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has filled out a bit in the chest and shoulders, and he soon could be throwing faster than ever. Will there be another breakdown or a relapse? It’s a fair question, and McCarney must realize he’ll be under the microscope no matter where he goes or what he does. Being a JV coach has afforded McCarney an opportunity to be of service and to return to a team environment – and he can think of no better therapy. “Mentally, I’m in the best shape of my life,” McCarney said. “Yes, I’ve gone through a bunch of things, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with my family situation. And I love coaching, too.” Wagner said McCarney’s “unique way of working with kids” makes him a good coach, but there are more ambitious plans. They’re working regularly to get McCarney back to peak form. The new plan is for McCarney to showcase for major-league scouts to prove he’s worthy of being drafted again this June. He also might play a season at College of the Canyons, then re-evaluate his options. “He’s got all the potential in the world if he keeps his head on straight,” James said. “I still say China McCarney is one of the 10 best athletes I’ve ever seen. His pitching ability speaks for itself, but what’s really great about him is he can hit and flat-out fly. Plus, what the coaches from Cal State Fullerton (which also recruited McCarney) liked about (him) more than anything was his competitiveness and his support of his teammates.” The door also is open for McCarney to return to Cal Poly. “He had some problems, but as soon as he gets his head on straight, we’d love to have him back,” Cal Poly coach Jerry Weinstein said. McCarney, who struck out 104 batters in just 56 innings at Vasquez last season, has two strikes against him in the game of life. The last thing he wants is to be tabbed another Matt Harrington, a former prep star at nearby Palmdale High who turned down a $5.3 million contract as a 2000 first-round draft choice by the Colorado Rockies – and never made it to the majors. Bad judgment. Bad decisions. Bad circumstances. Bad timing. Whatever you call it, McCarney declares such trials are behind him. He has rededicated his life to baseball, and he’s hoping his golden arm can carry him. “You know what? I just put new license-plate holders on my car that read `baseball forever,”‘ McCarney said. “I want baseball to be as much a part of my life as possible.” Gerry Gittelson’s column appears in the Daily News three times a week. He can be reached at (661) 257-5218 or [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!