The Angels’ surprisingly successful submarine right-hander has been afraid to raise his periscope, just in case it gives him a glimpse of reality.
Invited to camp late and then told he really wouldn’t have a chance of making the major-league roster, O’Day simply put his head down and went to work. The news was neither disappointing nor something that lit his fire. He simply settled into a comfort zone and has found nothing but success.
The surprise of camp has a 1.35 ERA over 13 1/3 innings over seven outings (before Friday’s night game against the Rangers) and is the favorite to make the Opening Day roster in the bullpen role of Chris Bootcheck, currently on the shelf with an oblique strain.
I was just excited to be here, the 25-year-old O’Day said. I was just trying to make a good impression never imagining that things might happen where they might need somebody up there. But certainly that’s why we all play to one day get up there. But I never dreamed it in my wildest dreams.
Excuse O’Day if if his major-league expectations are on the conservative side. This is a guy that was cut as a freshman at the University of Florida and figured he would instead dive into his studies.
Then a former high-school teammate invited O’Day to play in a Jacksonville recreation league and it was there that the stuff of legends was born. Because of the casual atmosphere of the league, O’Day figured he would try a sidearm delivery. When his velocity improved and the movement of his pitches increased, O’Day went back to the coaching staff at Florida looking for another tryout.
After I saw what I could do I thought I could make that team with this delivery, O’Day said. I knew that the college team needed a side-armer. They didn’t have any and I saw others on teams in the league. When I played in college, every team in the SEC at least one team had a sidearmer.
By his senior season, O’Day dominated as Florida’s closer, not that anybody thought he could pitch on the next level. He wasn’t even drafted, but in May of 2006 he signed a free-agent contract with the Angels.
At least O’Day believed in himself. He put off medical school to give baseball a chance and has no regrets. And then came some fateful words from an unlikely source.
I talked to the dean and I was going to apply to our med school, but he said don’t apply because you’re waisting your money. If you get accepted and go play baseball you’ll never get accepted again, O’Day said. It’s so competitive they don’t want me to take up a spot.
He signed with the Angels instead and continued to pitch like he was still in the SEC. He had a 2.51 ERA in 14 games at Orem, a 2.70 ERA in 17 games at Cedar Rapids, a 0.75 ERA in 24 games at Rancho Cucamonga to start last season and a 3.99 ERA in 29 games at Double-A Arkansas to end the 2007 season.
Double-A figured to be his destination this year, but now O’Day’s father might get to watch his boy pitch in the big leagues.
He actually likes baseball more than I do, O’Day said about his father. He loves to have something to watch. We talked about it. He said, ‘You now what, you should give this a try.’ And now it’s paid off for him because he had four years of college baseball to watch and now he gets to fly out here and watch some spring training.
O’Day’s father better make it to Minneapolis at the end of the month when the Angels open the season against the Twins. Anybody who likes baseball that much is going to love watching his son make his major-league debut.