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Softball

Plum softball getting coach McGrath back after heart attack scare

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Thursday, April 9, 2015, 10:00 p.m.
Plum's Hannah Adamski gets congratulated by coach Jim McGrath during the softball game against Penn Hills at Plum on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Plum's Hannah Adamski gets congratulated by coach Jim McGrath during the softball game against Penn Hills at Plum on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Jim McGrath sings and plays keyboard in a band called “Nacho Blues.” He's rocked out at the Pittsburgh Marathon, numerous weddings and several benefit events.

The Plum softball coach also used to fly planes as a private pilot.

McGrath admits he likes to have a good time, especially on the weekends after a long week of working as an insurance broker.

“Life is supposed to be fun,” he said. “You should enjoy it.”

But a recent scare caught McGrath off guard and kept him away from some of the activities he enjoys — including coaching his team.

McGrath, 60, had a heart attack three weeks ago and didn't even know it when it happened.

“I was out to dinner (with friends and family), and I had this big juicy, greasy hamburger,” McGrath said. “That night I kept getting heartburn, but it didn't feel like normal heartburn.”

Flu-like symptoms followed, so McGrath, a few days later and after coaching his team's season-opening loss at Greensburg Salem, went to the doctor for tests.

“I was achy and feverish and honestly I thought they were going to tell me I was getting pneumonia,” said McGrath, who was in intensive care for three days. “I knew something was wrong.”

But instead, “they found 100-percent blockage in one of my arteries,” he said.

Surgery was not required, but medication has helped him recover. He has quit smoking.

McGrath sneaked out to Plum's game Tuesday: a 15-0 win over Woodland Hills that improved the Mustangs' record to 4-1 (4-0 Section 2-AAAA).

“Against doctor's orders,” Plum interim head coach Phil DiLonardo said. “That's Jim. He does so many little things for the team that nobody notices. Nobody appreciates the things he does except the other coaches.”

One little thing is the team's website, which has not been updated since the end of last season. McGrath also is the team's webmaster.

A cardiologist Thursday gave McGrath the green light to return. Not that it mattered. If McGrath had been told to stay away, he was ready to be ornery.

“Guess what, sorry doc,” he said.

He will retake the reins of a team looking to build on the momentum from last season.

Plum has scored 50 runs in five games. Last year, the Mustangs won a playoff game for the first time in program history after clinching a share of their first section title since 2009.

The Adamski sisters have helped the upswing continue. Rachael, a senior pitcher and outfielder, has hit four home runs. Hannah, a junior outfielder, has three homers.

“It's different without (McGrath) around,” Hannah Adamski said. “He works with us outfielders all the time. His goal is always to win the section, so we want to win it for him. We all hope he comes back and gets better.”

DiLonardo, a sixth-year assistant under McGrath, said the players have handled McGrath's absence with sensitivity and understanding.

“I told them the other day, ‘Practices are the same, a good routine of what we do everyday,' ” DiLonardo said. “I know they have a lot of concern for (McGrath). Plus, they want him back because I'm too hard on them.”

With some key seniors gone, including Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year Jordan Seneca, who plays at St. Francis (Pa.), Plum had question marks at the start of the season. But the team is beginning to jell.

“I'm surprised but not surprised,” DiLonardo said. “Some of the girls who have picked it up this year were sophomores and juniors last year. I am surprised we've scored this many runs. We had a good win over Franklin Regional last week. That's always a big game.”

“The sophomore class has picked it up,” said McGrath. “Last year, we had some freshmen who were a little wet behind the ears. They have filled some shoes. They're dedicated players, and they spend a lot of time getting better.”

While waiting for her coach to return, Hannah Adamski, who led Plum with 12 homers last season, is enjoying a side game with her sister. She hits third in the batting order, and Rachael is fourth.

“I said to her, ‘You hit two (home runs) today (against Woodland Hills). So you're up one. She's a senior. I want her to do well this year. I hope she does beat me.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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