Denis McDonough: Center Field to Center Stage

Denis McDonough, Osama bin Laden, White House, Stillwater, Scandia, Fastpitch Softball
Denis McDonough (seated, blue shirt) watches strike unfold

By now you’ve seen the famous image released by the White House of President Obama and his staff watching and hearing elements of the mission that took out Osama Bin Laden. When I first saw the image, it wasn’t the Commander in Chief who caught my eye, or even Hillary Clinton’s terrified facial expression to which she later remarked, “I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs.”

Naw, I saw the former outfielder for Scandia Swenson’s Superette Men’s Fastpitch softball team: Denis McDonough.

Denis is a foreign policy advisor in the Obama Administration. He currently serves as President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor. Denis advised the president on foreign policy and helped craft his speeches as director of strategic communications for the NSC. Many say he was a key player in President Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan for what was dubbed a temporary surge – while those troops are expected to start coming home in July 2011.

What Denis is not known for publicly is his time with the Scandia softball team. See, where I grew up in Scandia, Minnesota (population 3,936) – men’s fastpitch softball was huge. It’s how we enjoyed our humid summers before the crazy winter would eat up eight months of our outdoor existence. It was back in 1989-1990 when I was one of the team’s bat boys (the other was former Scandia Merchant’s outfielder Mike McCurdy). My dad and brothers played fastpitch for years. I was too young to play, so bat boy was a role I proudly took on.

I remember the team was made up of guys I knew from Scandia – mostly my brother’s friends or dad’s acquaintances. I met “Denny” McDonough in 1990 or so. Denny and a guy named Kris Miller joined the team that year. Both guys were from neighboring Stillwater, Minnesota, I believe. Denny was a powerful hitter and great outfielder from what I can remember.  I always looked up to him and how nice he was, even to a little brat like me.

Denis McDonough, Mike McCury, Josh Benson, Scandia Softball, Men's Fastpitch Softball
The 1990 Scandia Squad. I’m the runt in the gray shirt on the right. Denis is standing directly behind me.

I looked up to all the guys on my team. I wanted to be able to stand in the box and swing at a screaming softball that could literally knock your head off. I wanted to hit home runs. I wanted to be more than a bat boy. And I eventually did. We later developed a team as McCurdy and I grew older. I did get in the box and even hit a few home runs. Ah, the days. Now I’m happy, even lucky, to unchain myself from this desk to get out and play a game of slow pitch with the crew at the TV station I work for: WFTV-TV. What I don’t remember from my younger years with the Merchants is the pain that lingers days after a game. Aging sucks, let’s be honest.

But it’s nice to follow Denis’s success while he rises up through the political ranks. And after seeing that famous photo, I had to do a triple take. But that surely is big ‘Denny McDonough” – one of Scandia softball’s finest – seated in the Situation Room. But this time instead of knocking softballs out of the park, he’s knocking Osama out of existence.

Good job, Denny. Go USA.

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Josh Benson

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Josh Benson


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