The significance behind this reliever's ink

August 24th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato's Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Veteran reliever Jake McGee doesn’t have to look far for motivation when he takes the mound.

Permanently inked on his fingers are reminders of the road he has taken in his 13-year Major League career. The southpaw has his first two uniform numbers -- 57 and 51 -- tattooed in roman numerals on the sides of his right index and middle fingers.

“There’s memories behind them, and they bring up different parts of my journey through life,” McGee, 36, said. “It’s pretty cool.”

McGee was given No. 57 when he was called up to the Rays for his debut in 2010. He experienced success wearing it, and he kept it for his six-year tenure with Tampa Bay.

The same number was not available when he was traded to the Rockies in 2016. So he chose the next closest option, No. 51.

“They’ll always bring up the memories of the games I was pitching in from each team,” he said. “It’s different from team to team, how my experiences were, even down to the cities we traveled in.”

Since those tattoos, McGee has worn four other uniform numbers: No. 41 with the Dodgers resembled No. 51; No. 17 with the Giants represented his 17th year in pro ball since being drafted in 2004; No. 21 with the Brewers was a nod to a former Minor League number; No. 47 with the Nationals is a combination of Nos. 41 and 57.

“I didn’t know how many teams I was going to be with at the time, so I’ve only got the two as of now,” McGee said. “I’ll probably end up getting the other ones, eventually.”

In addition to his uniform numbers, McGee asked the same Tampa-based artist to also tattoo his daughter’s initials and a heart drawn by his wife on his right hand, the phrase “family first” on his left index finger and the word “fate” on his left ring finger.

“I wanted to get meaningful tattoos,” McGee said. “I didn’t want to get them and regret them later. … Especially on my hands, I see them all the time."