Feb. 9, 2011

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Nine Innings with Peter O'Brien

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @roadtoomaha


Junior Peter O’Brien of Bethune-Cookman has developed into one of the top catchers in the nation.


A native of Miami Gardens, Fla., O’Brien is a preseason All-American after hitting .386 in 57 games a season ago with 20 home runs and 56 RBI. He was the MEAC Player of the Year and helped the Wildcats capture their fifth straight conference title. O’Brien played with Team USA this past summer, batting .306 in 13 games with four homers and 10 RBI.


O’Brien took some time to answer our questions about the Wildcats and the upcoming season.


First Inning - Did you feel you had a chance to be an All-American coming out of high school?

Yes. As a kid, I was always taught to go big. No matter what I did I always wanted to be the best at it. Coming out of high school, I found myself incredibly dedicated and motivated to this game. It's when I said that this is what I want to do the rest of my life, God willing. I strived to get better every day.


Second Inning - How important was it for you to stay in the state of Florida to play college baseball?

I was never too concerned about staying in Florida because I just wanted to play ball. Looking back on it, I'm glad I decided to play here. I was never recruited a whole lot coming out of high school. I've always been really close to my family, and we have a real tight-knit team. When I was offered a scholarship to B-CU, I jumped on it immediately. The coaches were great and it was only about three hours away from home, which gave my family and I the opportunity to stay close to each other. Also being in Florida gives you the leeway of practicing year round.


Third Inning - What were the biggest factors in your improvement from your freshman to sophomore year?

So many things contributed to my transition. After finishing my freshman year, I really wanted to bust out onto the scene as a sophomore. It all started the day we got knocked out of regionals. I had that huge emptiness in me after we just got knocked out and when we got back to Daytona Beach, I unloaded the bus with the team and got in my car and drove to DeLand to practice with my summer team. Some people thought I was crazy about not taking a couple days off but at that time, I knew that's what I needed to do. Since then I have worked to get bigger, faster, and stronger. I had the opportunity to talk a lot with Davey Johnson, who was our skipper over the summer, and really learned a lot from him about the game. When I got back to school I hit every day as much as I could and worked out with the team and on my own. I did my best to eat right. I had alarms on my phone to tell me when to eat. I had a lot of support from my family, coaches, and teammates. A lot of people see what goes on but few know about the help behind the scenes. My teammates knew where I wanted to get so they'd push me. We'd push each other. We fed off of each other.


Fourth Inning - How valuable was your experience with Team USA this past summer?

Playing with Team USA was amazing. The amount of talent on that team was crazy. It was the best summer of my life. When I stepped onto the field at Rosenblatt it gave me goose bumps. It was a surreal feeling. It felt like I had just shaken Babe Ruth's hand or something. I feel it really made me bring a sense of experience to our team that will be valuable to us this season. You know what it feels like to be at the top and to play at your best. You have to know you're the best. You've got to play with swag. We knew we were good and we played like it. When we played in Japan and lost to Cuba in that championship game, I was heartbroken just like losing in regionals. That's a feeling I never want to have again nor want anyone on my team to experience. It lit a fire in me.


Fifth Inning - What are your expectations for the 2011 season?

I want really big things. We want really big things. The team has been working harder than ever and we have a huge goal in mind. The coaches have presented us with a challenge and we want to accomplish it. We're tired of being thought of as the underdog. Player for player, we can hang with anyone in the nation. Durrence, Leonard, Castro, Sanchez, and Wright, to name a few. All those guys are animals. We have a strong sense of leadership this year. Everyone loves being with each other, and we are all pulling the same way. We've got a good thing going here and it's really going to be a fun year to be a Wildcat.


Sixth Inning - What do you expect from the Wildcat pitching staff for the 2011 season?

I expect them to leave everything they've got out there on that mound. I want them to compete. I want them to go out there and dominate. They've been working day in and day out to get better and there are a lot of guys on there, especially young guys, who will be impact players for us this year.


Seventh Inning - What makes Bethune-Cookman so dominant in the MEAC?

Coach Melendez has done a lot for this program. He took it over from scratch and just went uphill with it. The level of respect and maturity he has for the game is unmatched. We are the Alpha male in the MEAC and that's what we are trying to do in Division I baseball. We don't slack off and we play our hardest every game, no matter the opponent. We try to play with a chip on our shoulder; they're all out to get us.


Eighth Inning - What do you think of the bat restrictions from a hitter's point of view?

They changed something, that's for sure! The weight is distributed differently and the ball doesn't jump off as much, but I guess it just means I have got to hit my forearms that much harder! I think it's for the better, though. They resemble wood bats more. When you get jammed you get JAMMED! But if you hit that bad boy on the barrel, it still goes a long way. I think it will really make you a better hitter, you'll learn to square the ball up more consistently. Although I feel more comfortable with wood in my hands, the new bats are fine with me. It will just take some time to get used to them.


Ninth Inning - What do you think of the bat restrictions from a catcher's point of view?

I think it's going to be fun. Calling the game is going to be easier. It's going to make pitching and defense that much more important. The inside part of the plate is going to open back up and I know the pitchers are happy about the new bats. The guys that can hit will still hit, but the jammed and off-the-end shots won’t make it out of the infield as much.


(photos courtesy of Bethune-Cookman Media Relations Office)