A Major Step

Parkwood native Brian O’Grady, who played baseball at Archbishop Wood from 2007-10, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds last week in the MLB Draft.

A dream come true: Fol­low­ing eight stel­lar years on the base­ball dia­mond at Arch­bish­op Wood and Rut­gers Uni­versity, North­east Philly nat­ive Bri­an O’Grady was se­lec­ted in the eighth round of the MLB Draft by the Cin­cin­nati Reds. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF RUT­GERS ATH­LET­IC COM­MU­NIC­A­TIONS

Un­like many re­cent col­lege gradu­ates, Bri­an O’Grady will have no prob­lem find­ing his first real-world job. He’ll also have a strong head start in rack­ing up more fre­quent fly­er miles than his peers.

O’Grady, who grew up near the Fly­ers Skate Zone in Park­wood, was se­lec­ted over the week­end in the eighth round of the Ma­jor League Base­ball First-Year Play­er Draft by the Cin­cin­nati Reds. O’Grady and his fam­ily re­lo­cated from the North­east to Warmin­ster when he was in fifth grade, so un­like his older sib­lings, who at­ten­ded Arch­bish­op Ry­an, O’Grady en­rolled at Arch­bish­op Wood, where he starred on the dia­mond and bas­ket­ball court from 2007-10.

O’Grady, a former out­field­er who con­ver­ted to first base his seni­or sea­son at Rut­gers Uni­versity, now gets to go chase the dream that every young boy has at one point or an­oth­er in his life­time: be­come a pro­fes­sion­al base­ball play­er.

“It’s start­ing to sink in, but be­fore right now it felt like a dream,” O’Grady said Monday by phone. “It’s been a crazy couple of days with everything mov­ing so fast … it’s so ex­cit­ing. It’s been the dream for so long. When you work so hard and it ac­tu­ally hap­pens, you just want to go out there and keep get­ting your work in.”

O’Grady was speak­ing from a set­ting he’ll be­come quite fa­mil­i­ar with in his new pro­fes­sion: the air­port. He was wait­ing to catch a flight to Phoenix, where the Reds’ spring train­ing and play­er de­vel­op­ment com­plex is loc­ated. He’ll have a short ori­ent­a­tion with the rest of the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s draft picks be­fore head­ing to Billings, Montana, where the Reds’ Pi­on­eer League Ad­vanced Rook­ie af­fil­i­ate, the Mus­tangs, are loc­ated. 

From there, he will at­tempt to work his way up the base­ball lad­der to the big leagues. It’s no small feat, but as Tom Hanks’ char­ac­ter in the base­ball film A League of Their Own said, “It’s sup­posed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, every­one would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Be­fore he moved to Warmin­ster, O’Grady at­ten­ded grade school at St. Martha. His two sib­lings at­ten­ded Ry­an, and his broth­er, Bill Fulforth, was the Cath­ol­ic League’s most valu­able foot­ball play­er in 1996. Their broth­er-in-law, Ed Pis­arek, is a cur­rent as­sist­ant foot­ball coach at Ry­an.

O’Grady wrote a new chapter for him­self, stand­ing out on Wood’s bas­ket­ball and base­ball teams. He was a First Team All-Cath­ol­ic League Blue Di­vi­sion se­lec­tion as an out­field­er his seni­or sea­son, help­ing guide the Vik­ings to the post­season semi­finals. He de­cided to play his col­lege ball at Rut­gers, namely due to the fact that the Scar­let Knights were known for their hit­ting, pro­du­cing re­cent pro­fes­sion­al tal­ent such as Cin­cin­nati’s Todd Fra­zi­er and Tampa Bay’s Dav­id DeJe­sus. The close prox­im­ity to home didn’t hurt, either. 

“I star­ted get­ting re­cruited from a bunch of schools as a sopho­more, and back then the dream was the ste­reo­type stigma of go­ing down South to play at a big base­ball school,” he said. “But I saw I could be­come a very good play­er at Rut­gers and get a shot at the dream closer to home so my par­ents could watch me play. They’ve been to so many of my games, and my dad drove me every­where my whole life to play base­ball. They were al­ways there, no mat­ter what, and it was im­port­ant to me that they can see me play. 

“Plus, Rut­gers is a pro­gram known for hit­ting, and I knew they could help get me to where I wanted to be as a hit­ter.”

At Rut­gers, O’Grady was mostly un­der the tu­tel­age of le­gendary Scar­let Knights base­ball coach Fred Hill, who won 941 games at the school between 1984-2013, when he re­tired. By then, O’Grady was already on the fast track to get­ting draf­ted. After an up-and-down fresh­man sea­son in 2011, O’Grady hit .287 or bet­ter his fi­nal three sea­sons, top­ping the .300 mark twice. He hit .294 in 208 ca­reer games, rack­ing up 227 hits, 46 doubles, 143 runs and 30 steals. O’Grady was a Third Team All-Big East se­lec­tion this past sea­son, when he hit .328. 

He said he no­ticed pro­fes­sion­al scouts watch­ing him after his sopho­more sea­son, which was a bit of an ad­just­ment at first.

“I no­ticed guys video­tap­ing me at the plate,” O’Grady said. “At first it was weird, and I thought, ‘Uh oh, they’re film­ing me, I bet­ter do well.’ Then I learned in base­ball, you have to be re­laxed and not try to do too much. The res­ults don’t just hap­pen. In the be­gin­ning, it was hard to not pay at­ten­tion, as far as the in­terest goes, but I got used to it after a little while. It can get a bit stress­ful, but I knew my tal­ent would take me where I wanted to go if I just fo­cused on win­ning and the oth­er things I could con­trol.”

O’Grady said he first got a call from the Kan­sas City Roy­als, who nearly took him in the sixth or sev­enth round be­fore chan­ging course and se­lect­ing a dif­fer­ent play­er. He said he figured he’d go some­where in between rounds 7-10, and when the Reds called his name in the eighth, O’Grady said “Things played out per­fectly, and I went right where I was sup­posed to go.”

O’Grady cer­tainly be­lieves play­ing against stiff Cath­ol­ic League com­pet­i­tion in the Phil­adelphia area pre­pared him for Rut­gers and bey­ond, and he said it was no sur­prise to him to see cur­rent Neu­mann-Gor­etti seni­or first base­man Josh Ock­imey se­lec­ted in the fourth round by the Bo­ston Red Sox.

“I played varsity bas­ket­ball and base­ball right away as a fresh­man at Wood, and it’s def­in­itely good com­pet­i­tion,” he said. “The kids are tough in whatever sport they play. They want to win, and they’re fiery. That tough­ness just makes you bet­ter as an ath­lete.”

And al­though O’Grady is still on cloud nine after be­ing draf­ted, he knows the hard work has just be­gun. He faces as­tro­nom­ic­al odds to make it to the big leagues, which is the case for many pro­spects when first start­ing out. He vowed not to take his situ­ation for gran­ted and get com­pla­cent.

“For me, it’s ma­jor league or bust, be­cause that’s been my dream,” he said. “I want to be the best and play against the best. I’m not just sat­is­fied with play­ing minor league base­ball. My ul­ti­mate goal is to get there and play well. To do that, I have to work hard and keep turn­ing people’s heads. I just want to go out there and have four qual­ity at-bats every game. The Reds like me, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

Des­pite grow­ing up a Phil­lies fan, O’Grady said he and his fam­ily had no qualms switch­ing al­le­gi­ances to Cin­cin­nati. Des­pite the fact that he was a fan first, this is his job now.

“They’re a class or­gan­iz­a­tion, one that’s very high on char­ac­ter,” he said of the Reds. “I’m ex­cited. A little anxious, but not nervous. For me, it’s just still base­ball. It was fun when I was 8, and it’s still fun at 22. I re­mem­ber grow­ing up in North­east Philly play­ing wiffle ball with spraypainted bases in the street; it’s crazy that it worked out this way, but if you give everything you have and you want it badly enough, you can do it. Not many people get to live out their dreams this way, so it just makes it all seem worth it.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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