CHARLOTTE - Major League Baseball Opening Day was on Thursday, but the Queens University Royals have been playing for months.

"We're about 25 games in, 26 something like that," said coach Jack McDowell, "it's getting close to the end."

But it's really just the beginning for Queens. They're a first-year program playing at the club level. But they will be full-fledged NCAA Division II in 2019, playing in the South Atlantic Conference.

"We'll see what this group means going forward," said McDowell. "I think we have established a tight knit (group), especially since it's a small group."

By now you might be wondering. And yes, it is that Jack McDowell, better known as "Black Jack" during his All-Star career in Major League Baseball. He married a North Carolina girl, and now calls Charlotte home.

In the big leagues, McDowell enjoyed a 12-year career as a right-handed starting pitcher, compiling a record of 127-87 with a 3.85 ERA.

"I looked him up and that's one of the reasons why I came here," said outfielder CJ Hammonds.

McDowell was a two-time, twenty-game winner. And in 1993 he won the American League Cy Young Award.

"The best pitchers in baseball win that award," said Queens pitcher Max Fries, "and to have the opportunity to come pitch and play for a guy like that is an opportunity that you can't pass up."

McDowell's players also couldn't pass up the chance to learn more about their coach's playing career.

But of course, that includes one infamous incident.

"What happened at Yankee Stadium," said Hammonds with a smile.

During his one season with New York in 1995, McDowell suffered a rough outing. Walking off the mound he heard the boo birds in the Bronx, and gave them a one-finger salute.

The image was splashed all over the New York tabloids, including one that sits in an apartment shared by some of his players.

"I have the big front page news article above our TV in the apartment," Fries said.

But McDowell, always willing to share stories of life in the big leagues with his players, didn't shy away from the moment.

"He said he was heated on the mound and let them have it," said Hammonds.

Added Fries: "He said he shouldn't have done it."

These days it's not Black Jack McDowell, it's just Coach McDowell. Eager to impart his wisdom, and eager to build a sustainable program.

"We're trying to make this in to the best program we can make it with the best opportunities baseball-wise," McDowell said, "and the best opportunities academics-wise, and I think we can offer that."

Queens travels to Newberry College to face the JV team on Monday. They are home at Jack Hughes Park in Pineville against Piedmont International JV on Thursday, April 5.