Friday, March 28, 2008

This is not a baseball blog: Former Wheaton stars playing for new teams

You won’t find baseball making its way into many Words Matter posts, over the next eight months that constitute prime time for the former national pastime. Part of the reason is that for as long as possible (can you say June?), I hope to be busy following the Celtics run for an NBA title. Given my current self-imposed deadline for my book project, I can only deal with one sport (if that) at a time.

However, since baseball has officially opened its season with the Red Sox traveling across time zones, to play two games at breakfast time, I have two brief baseball-related items to share, both connected with Wheaton College and former players who once donned the Lyon’s uniform.

Chris Denorfia, Wheaton class of 2002, had an RBI single for Oakland, in their 5-1 victory over the Sox, Wednesday

Denorfia, the only Wheaton player to play in the major leagues, was acquired by Oakland on April 27th. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2007 season, after injuring it during the waning days of spring training last year. Denorfia had been slotted to be Cincinnati’s fourth outfielder, after a breakout season in 2006 for the Reds’ AAA affiliate, in Lousville. Denorfia was the only Reds farmhand to represent the club in the 2006 AAA all-star game in July. He was voted top defensive outfielder in the International League, by Baseball America.

Denorfia should get an opportunity to play regularly in Oakland, as the A’s are young and retooling.

Former Wheaton star, Pat O’Connor, one of Wheaton’s key players during their magical 2006 ride to the Division III College World Series, when they finished 2nd in the country in their first ever World Series appearance, is playing at Divison II Bryant University, leading the Bulldongs in hitting.

O’Connor, who battled injuries to both shoulders during 2006, hit one of the more dramatic home runs this writer has witnessed in his varied baseball life. Trailing Chapman University of California, 3-1, going into the bottom of the seventh, the gutsy O’Connor launched a towering drive over the wall in left, sending the Wheaton faithful into delirium, and Wheaton on to the finals against Marietta College (Ohio).

Not many people knew that O’Connor's shoulders were so bad that he was lucky to have one good swing per at bat. Following the 2006 season, he underwent surgery and missed the 2007 season.

It’s nice to see this young man resurface and apparently healthy again and putting the hurt on pitchers in the Northeast-10 conference. This DII conference finds Bryant battling perennial power, Franklin Pierce and O’Connor will undoubtedly play a key role in their success. Through 19 games, O’Connor is leading his club offensively, batting .397, with 4 homers and 12 RBI. The Northeast-10 is one of the few college conferences that use wooden bats.

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