Dennis O'Grady stands on the mound in the right field bullpen area before last Monday's game against Eau Claire. His bullpen session is over.
O'Grady is alone and he doesn't have a ball in his hand. But he continues to slowly work through his motion: Feet in line, arms over head, body coils (keep your weight back!), arm cocks back and flies forward at the imaginary target, follow through. Over and over.
It's the night before a start and O'Grady wants to make sure his mechanics are sound. Turns out, they are fine. He will win his fourth consecutive game for the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers 24 hours later.
"Hard work has gotten me here. I just have to stay in my routine," O'Grady said. "The more you stay in your routine, the more comfortable you are on the mound."
Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers starter Dennis O'Grady, threw in the bullpen during Wednesday's doubleheader with Rochester. O'Grady leads the Northwoods league with a 5-0 record and 1.02 ERA. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
As a freshman last year for Duke, O'Grady was 3-2 with one save and a 3.86 ERA in 30 1/3 innings.
He's only gotten better. Through Tuesday, O'Grady led the Northwoods League with a 1.02 ERA that he had accrued in 53 innings (seven starts and one relief appearance). He also moonlights as a utility infielder
"I didn't expect to do this well," O'Grady said.
Although he is surprised by the extent of his success this summer, O'Grady can explain it. He believes his greatest strength as a pitcher is his fastball's quality and command. In college, he'd hit a spot and a hitter wouldn't get the meat of the bat on the pitch-but it could get pounded regardless because the sweet spot is larger and more pronounced on an aluminum bat than it is on a wood bat.
This summer, O'Grady has noticed that hitting his spots has resulted in next to no well-hit balls. The result? He's become one of the league's best pitchers.
"I've had great coaching," O'Grady said. "You get as much information as you can at each level. I write things down, try to remember them, save them as drafts in my cell phone. Just all the little information that I can pick up that could help me."
O'Grady is from Queens, N.Y. He went a combined 15-3 as a junior and senior at Archbishop Molloy High School, where he was also a member of the National Honor Society. The dual success brought him to Duke.
Team: Lakes Area Lunkers
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Current stats: 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA, 44 Ks, 10 BB, 6 ER, 31 H in 53 innings.
He is in unfamiliar surroundings this summer, but college teammate Will Piwnica-Worms has made the transition easier. Piwnica-Worms is a Lunkers outfielder who has relatives in Minnesota.
Last Sunday, Piwnica-Worms, an experienced fisherman, took the angling neophyte O'Grady to White Sand Lake in Baxter for an afternoon fishing outing.
"He had to teach me how to reel and everything," O'Grady said. "I didn't catch anything. He caught like four fish; I didn't get one bite the whole time!"
O'Grady's favorite part of the lakes area has been the lakes, of course.
"Whenever we get an off day we try and go out on the lake, get some water skiing, some tubing," O'Grady said. "The only time I go to the lake at home is when I go on the vacation to upstate New York."
O'Grady is asked about the differences between Queens and Duke and northern Minnesota.
"It's a little different here," O'Grady said. "It's a lot better, no traffic-until (the Fourth of July) weekend. I felt like I was back at home with all the traffic. It's a good experience, getting away from home. I've never been to Wisconsin. I went to Green Bay-I got to see Lambeau Field from a distance. It's good seeing different places and getting away from home."
O'Grady is batting only .215 in 79 at-bats for the Lunkers. Would he give up hitting to focus on pitching in an attempt to bolster his chances of playing baseball professionally?
"I love to hit. So I don't think I could" O'Grady trails off in thought. He thinks for a moment and then continues. "Honestly, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't do the other. If I was only a pitcher, I don't know what I'd do without hitting. If I only hit, I wouldn't know what I'd do without pitching. Long term, I don't know. Sooner or later I'm going to have to pick one and I'm dreading that day."
What is his preference?
"Hmmm" O'Grady says, his eyes scanning the sky and then the dirt. "If I'm starting that day, my preference is pitching, if I'm in the lineup that day, my preference is hitting, you know? It's like that."
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