Time Out! by John Bernhardt: April 15, 2009
by John Bernhardt
“Don’t say it!” warned Randy VanKeuren when center fielder Garret Fairbairn began to tell his parents on the sidelines Thursday that Margaretville pitcher Patrick O’Connell had not allowed a single Windham runner to reach first base. Unaware of the baseball lore that claims you never talk about a pending no-hitter, Fairbairn failed to heed VanKeuren’s warning and blurted out the news anyway.
But, O’Connell was in the zone, and the sophomore pitcher was beyond superstitions as he continued his pitching mastery over the Warriors and logged a perfect game.
I love it when good things happen to people who work hard. That has to be the case with O’Connell. Almost a throwback to an era when most young men were obsessed about baseball, O’Connell loves the game. The sophomore pitcher is starting his fourth year of varsity baseball at Margaretville. Watching him play, his love and dedication to the game is obvious. Patrick O’Connell is the type of kid who has rubber coated baseballs and is already limbering up his arm with snow still on the ground on the first warm late winter/early spring day.
Pitching is about mechanics and mechanics are about muscle memory reflex that develops through countless hours of practice. Watching O’Connell throw his gem on Thursday was testimony to his practice dedication. The young pitching ace’s mechanics were flawless, his discipline beyond his years. Even as the pressure built with O’Connell chasing the rarest of the rare, a perfect game, the young pitcher did not succumb to the temptation of trying to throw too hard and overthrowing.
O’Connell’s perfect game was rare indeed. I can’t count the number of Legion, high school, and college baseball games I’ve watched over the years, and, until Thursday, I had never watched a pitcher throw a live perfect game. Margaretville coach Rick Funck, in his 25th season as the Blue Devils’ coach, had never seen a perfect game, or even a no-hitter, until O’Connell’s perfection. The chances of a young pitcher not walking a batter, hitting a batter, or suffering from a dropped third strike, or a squibbler weakly placed where no one can field it, or a poorly played ball by a defending teammate are simply too high. Yet, O’Connell beat the odds and did something special Thursday afternoon.
As someone who pitched for many, many years, O’Connell’s performance Thursday was more than special. Long ago in my senior year in high school, I threw a no-hit game against Roscoe. But, my no-hitter had an asterisk. Always using my head on the mound, I pitched around Roscoe’s best hitter, a guy named Bill Henderson, and walked him at least two times. Later, at SUNY Oswego, I threw a near perfect game. An infield squibbler that stopped almost on the third base line ended my bid for both a perfect game and no-hitter in a single at-bat.
That batter was the only runner who would reach first base against me that day, one spectacular game for me in a rather unspectacular four years of college baseball. My countless hours and hours of practice and hundreds and hundreds of games helped me marvel at O’Connell’s performance Thursday and even more so at the young man’s poise.
O’Connell’s game on Thursday was a testimony to his grit and dedication to the game he loves. It’s also a living example of the power of practice. If you want to achieve, if you want to become accomplished in a pursuit, it takes practice. We can’t all pitch a perfect game like O’Connell, but if we log the time we can come far closer to the perfect standard we set in whatever pursuit we choose to follow.
Finally, like the recent South Kortright boys’ state basketball championship, O’Connell’s perfect game emphasizes the best of what high school athletics gives. Local athletics provide young people with passions to follow and dreams to dream and sometimes with achievements to realize through ordinary competition that are truly extraordinary.