Jan. 4, 2012

2011 preseason feature on Peter O'Brien


O’Brien’s Status at Miami Still Uncertain


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


Former Bethune-Cookman catcher Peter O’Brien (left), whose quest to play for Miami this season has taken much longer than many anticipated, should find out whether he can suit up for the Hurricanes within the next few weeks.


But there appears to be another hurdle.


According to Mervyl Melendez, O’Brien’s coach at Bethune-Cookman for three seasons, O’Brien is expecting to meet with the NCAA this month and a final decision on whether the All-American catcher can play this season for the Hurricanes should come shortly after that meeting.


“When I talked to him on Christmas Day, he said he has an interview with the NCAA in January, and that will decide his fate,” said Melendez, who left Bethune-Cookman after the 2011 season to take the head job at Alabama State. “Peter and I were very, very close and we’re still very close; he was more than a player to me, he was like a son. He still is.”


O’Brien, who was drafted in the third round by the Colorado Rockies but chose not to sign, enrolled at Miami for the fall semester and requested a waiver from the NCAA to play for the Hurricanes this season rather than sitting out a season per NCAA rules. An answer was expected during the fall, and coach Jim Morris tweeted on Dec. 18 that “Hopefully this will be the week we hear about O’Brien.”


But O’Brien and the Hurricanes entered the New Year in the same limbo they have been for the past few months, a seemingly long time for a resolution.


“The waiver review you are asking about is ongoing, but a final decision is expected within the next few weeks,” said Cameron Schuh, associate director for public and media relations for the NCAA. Chris Freet, associate athletic director for communications at Miami, said O’Brien’s waiver process is not complete and that the NCAA hasn’t given any approval or denial and that the school couldn’t comment any further.


Division I college baseball players in good academic standing could transfer to another Division I school without sitting out a year until 2008, when the NCAA changed the rule to require players to sit out a year like in basketball and football.


However, there are exceptions.


O’Brien is asking the NCAA for an exception to play immediately because the former star at Miami’s Braddock High School chose the Hurricanes so he could be closer to the home of his mother, who is in failing health.


Melendez wouldn’t specify O’Brien’s mother’s illness, but he said it was “serious.”


“She’s a very strong woman, she’s not going to show you any sign of sickness or weakness,” Melendez said. “We all knew what she was going through…she attended as many games as she could. They are a very close family.”


Matt Burgemeister, the assistant commissioner in charge of compliance services for the Western Athletic Conference, spent four years with the NCAA working on academic and eligibility issues, including transfers. He isn’t familiar with O’Brien’s story but said that waivers for one-time transfers can take as little as three to five weeks for the NCAA to decide if they are cut and dry and depending on the urgency of the waiver. In this case, it’s possible there could have been other cases of issues that took priority.


Burgemeister added that if there were situations of disagreement between the previous school, new school and student athlete, that could cause back and forth communication and delays. Melendez believes O’Brien has the blessing of Bethune-Cookman and Athletic Director Lynn Thompson and said, “He did it the right way…The things that needed to happen were happening on our end for them to grant that for him.”


Regarding the health of a parent, Burgemeister said, “Generally, if it can be documented that an immediate family member or some other close relative has an illness or a hardship that they should be closer to home…if they are in fact providing some level of support to that individual, generally, those types of waivers are approved.”


Burgemeister speculated that getting documentation of a family member’s condition could explain the length of the delay. He said he wasn’t familiar with the part of the process where a student athlete would interview with the NCAA regarding his transfer eligibility. 


O’Brien, a second-team Louisville Slugger preseason All-American as selected by Collegiate Baseball, put together a stellar career at Bethune-Cookman. After hitting .314 with four homers and 30 RBI as a freshman, he exploded in 2010 with a .386 average, 20 homers and 56 RBI. He was selected as one of two catchers for Team USA that summer. As a junior, he batted .304 with 14 homers and 69 RBI.


The Rockies snagged O’Brien in the third round. During negotiations, O’Brien began exploring the possibility of transferring to Miami.


“It was unfortunate he didn’t sign, but I’m sure his mother’s illness had a lot to do with him not taking the offer from the Rockies,” Melendez said.


Melendez (left) said he was surprised that O’Brien fell to the third round and didn’t get the offer O’Brien was expecting. He added that he didn’t think O’Brien was treated fairly by a lot of scouts and wasn’t treated like an ACC or SEC player.


“I was surprised by a lot of things,” Melendez said. “He was treated a little unfair. I voiced my opinion to a lot of the scouts I came into contact with. He felt a little disrespected. The Rockies didn’t come with a strong offer at the end…you would think they would be willing to work with him.”


Melendez expects O’Brien to do very well at Miami if granted his waiver. He said his former catcher hit better against better pitching, and the ball travels better at the Hurricanes’ Mark Light Field than it does at the Wildcats’ Jackie Robinson Stadium. If the waiver request is denied, Melendez said O’Brien probably would continue to work out at Miami in preparation for the draft, or he could sign with an independent club.


Like many, though, Melendez believes the NCAA will approve O’Brien’s waiver request.


“I don’t think the NCAA will penalize him,” Melendez said. “We’re talking about him being with his ill mother.”


(photos courtesy of B-CU Media Relations Office)