Published June 19. 2013 4:00AM
Admittedly, the opening line, "It was May 8, 2013 in Blacksburg, Va." just doesn't have the same swagger as "Call me Ishmael" or "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." But this is where the story begins.
It was May 8, 2013 in Blacksburg, Va.
And Colin O'Keefe, the erstwhile whiz kid pitcher from Waterford High, the state's former Gatorade Player of the Year, might as well have been in witness protection. He hadn't pitched in weeks. Really, he'd hardly pitched at all in his college career. It was cold and rainy May 8, 2013 in Blacksburg, Va. The game had long since been decided, Virginia Tech pounding on High Point.
O'Keefe remembers the day.
The day his life changed.
"I thought I might have a chance to pitch," O'Keefe remembered thinking from the Virginia Tech dugout, at some point around the fifth inning.
The lopsided score helped.
Colin O'Keefe pitched the top of the ninth. Among the most irrelevant innings of the season for the Hokies. He pitched to four batters and touched 94 on the speed gun. Then he went back to the dorm.
It wasn't until later, much later, that O'Keefe learned Dan Radcliff, a scout for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, happened to be among the few, the proud, who had remained for the ninth inning.
Colin O'Keefe is a member of the Angels' organization today. He signed over the weekend.
"(Radcliff) called me before the draft and told me 'I really like you. I was the only guy in the stands left at the High Point game,'" O'Keefe was saying last week, inhaling a steak at Filomena's Restaurant in Waterford. "He said, 'I'd like to draft you.' I was like, 'sounds good to me.'"
It's already a great story for O'Keefe to tell. The forgotten kid gets this chance when he thinks nobody is watching. If he makes the majors, embellishment will grow it into legend. Even better: It's a story with universal application:
You never know who's watching.
So always do your best.
(And make your kid pitch left-handed, if at all possible).
"I could have gone out there and thrown 85," O'Keefe said. "Get it over the plate and get everybody out of there."
Instead, he threw 94, fortifying what Radcliff had seen in the fall.
O'Keefe's decision to try — because you never know who's watching — is the reason he's a professional baseball player today.
And now the 2-2 record in three years at Virginia Tech, the 15.88 earned run average this season, fades into irrelevance. Colin O'Keefe is a pro now.
"Obviously, it was a disappointing year," O'Keefe said. "In the winter, I probably had 25 meetings with scouts. I was really excited."
O'Keefe missed the preseason with bicep tendonitis and never gained coach Pete Hughes' trust. It led to days and weeks of the unknown. Why wasn't he pitching? Would scouts still remember him? Would anyone call on draft day?
If O'Keefe were programmed differently, he could have pouted. He could have been a distraction. He could have let body language scare off Radcliff that day against High Point.
Maybe it was his education in Waterford. All those days as the batboy for his dad, Jack, the four-time state championship coach. All those days having to mount an offense against assistant coach Tom Sullivan.
"Ever since I was three, Sully would call me 'Cupcake,' wearing me out about everything," O'Keefe said. "He would tell me I was never the best pitcher in Waterford (Sullivan gave the nod to softball ace Kelli Connors).
"I was the batboy for my dad. I learned from my dad, Sully, John Contillo. I was around baseball my whole life. There's a certain way to do things."
Because you never know who's watching.
And now Cupcake is an Angel.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.