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.” ••