For Brian O’Keefe, a .346 batting average through the first six games of the season meant something wasn’t quite right.
The St. Joseph’s University junior catcher and Colonie graduate then went 7-for-10 through a three-game weekend homestand to earn co-player of the week in the Atlantic 10 conference. In a pair of games last weekend, he went 6-for-7 to earn the nod outright.
He said thinking about the possibility of being chosen in the June 8 Major League Baseball draft was distracting him early this spring.
“To start the season, I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous with it being my junior year and having the opportunity to possibly play on,” O’Keefe said. “But I’ll tell you, after getting out there, I just tried to forget about all that and just enjoy the game and enjoy my teammates. I’ve had great success doing that, and I feel great right now. I try not to look at it and pay too close attention to it, but I know I’m putting together a pretty special season, so it’s a great feeling when you know you’re doing something like that.”
Now through 21 games, he leads the Atlantic 10 in batting average (.404) and runs (25), and leads his team in slugging (.584), hits (36) and total bases (52), and shares the team lead in RBI (23) and home runs (four).
“When I was in high school, and even when I was going through the whole recruiting process, the biggest thing was always that my defense was so much better than my offense,” O’Keefe said. “I always knew my offense was good, and I think now people are starting to see how good it actually is.”
His defense, of course, is still pretty good.
He’s thrown out eight of 21 runners trying to steal this season, and St. Joseph’s coach Fritz Hamburg believes a decent draft pick is in O’Keefe’s future if he remains consistent through the season.
“He’s gotten a lot of interest from the scouts, and I think more so if he continues to do what he’s doing, the question is what round he’ll go and how high he’ll go,” Hamburg said. “He’s a physically strong kid, he has a really strong core. He throws as well from his knees as anyone I’ve seen. He throws equally as well from his knees as from his feet, which is a really impressive skill.”
The pitching staff for the Hawks includes seven freshmen and four sophomores. O’Keefe said some of the young hurlers took a few appearances to acclimate to the college game, but one of the skills he has learned over the years is when to spot a pitcher in distress and what to do about it.
“If I see something, I might go talk to them real quick,” O’Keefe said. “But when you see a young guy out there with a deer-in-the-headlights look, you have to go out there and calm him down, tell him not to let the game speed up on him. You’ve just got to give a confidence boost to those young guys. The older guys, you can kick them in the butt. Those young guys, you’ve got to pat them on the butt and say, ‘You’re throwing great,’ and try to help them get through whatever they’re going through.”
Helping a pitcher control his emotions is old hat, but a recent addition to O’Keefe’s skill set — controlling his own — enhances his ability as a leader and hopefully will improve his draft stock.
“It’s funny,” he said, “because I didn’t really realize this until this year, but coach pulled me aside and said, ‘Even when you’re having a bad day, everyone on the field’s eyes are on you, just because of your position.’ Guys respond to how you are, so even when you’re having a rough day, you’ve got to be that guy. You have to be the leader out there every day, every pitch.”