MWL Notes: O'Rear bounced into ball

Dayton Dragons pitcher transitions from court to diamond

By Curt Rallo / Special to | May 31, 2012 8:08 AM ET

Major League Baseball players generally don't look up recent signees who are trying to find their way around the Minor League complex.

Lucas O'Rear was the exception at the Cincinnati Reds complex following the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament.

"At Spring Training, a couple of big league guys looked me up and let me know that I ruined their bracket," laughed O'Rear, who helped Northern Iowa stun No. 1 seed Kansas, 69-67, in the Round of 32 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. It was the first time a No. 1 seed fell at that stage of March Madness since UAB and Alabama each pulled off the trick against Kentucky and Stanford respectively in 2004.

Not everybody was mad at O'Rear and the No. 9 seed Northern Iowa team for pulling off a shocker.

"There's actually a guy from Kansas State who is on the Dayton team right now, and he absolutely loved that game," O'Rear said of teammate James Allen. "He came up to me and said how awesome that was that we beat Kansas."

O'Rear, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound pitcher, wants to be known in the Reds organization for more than his basketball ability.

Northern Iowa basketball coach Ben Jacobson said that O'Rear's fierce competitiveness and understanding of teamwork have fueled his athletic success in two sports.

"Lucas has a great demeanor about him," Jacobson said. "He's a terrific [competitor] and he's a big-time teammate. Those are the reasons why he was able to have a lot of success with our basketball program and have success on the baseball field. He's made that way. ... It's the intangible things that have really helped him to have success in two different sports to the level that he has.

"Kids are specialized at such an early age these days. That's the thing to do. You aren't going to find many guys like Lucas who can have success beyond high school in two different sports."

Jacobson said that O'Rear's basketball experience will help his climb in baseball.

"What Lucas found out with the group he played with and what that team was all about, was that supporting each other, trusting each other, sticking up for each other, that it works," Jacobson said. "For us, he was asked to come off the bench and be the best sixth man, and he accepted that and wanted to do that and really thrived in that role. His competitiveness and grit really shined through for us in big moments. It certainly showed up in that Kansas game to get us to the Sweet Sixteen."

Though O'Rear was a mainstay for the UNI basketball team, he only pitched 17 innings in his Northern Iowa career. He didn't play baseball his freshman season, played a limited amount his sophomore season, and then the university discontinued the baseball program his junior year.

O'Rear said a conversation with the baseball coach at UNI got him back into the sport.

"The baseball coach asked me if I was going to play my sophomore year," O'Rear said. "I told him that I wanted to play again, that I missed the game a lot."

O'Rear, who clips 94 mph on the radar gun, caught the attention of the Reds. Cincinnati drafted him in the 13th round.

"Lucas is a two-sport guy, and he didn't get to play baseball his last year at Northern Iowa, so we knew he'd be a raw guy," Reds' assistant director of player development Jeff Graupe said. "But he's a good athlete for a big guy. He's got good arm strength. ... He's got a good make-up. The make-up and the arm strength were the big reasons we liked him.

"You have to look at him as a special case. The biggest thing with a young pitcher is consistency. He's doing a better job of flashing his plus stuff more often. With time and repetition, it will all work out."

O'Rear said that getting drafted was another special chapter in his life.

"I'm just so grateful that the Reds chose me in the Draft and are giving me a chance," O'Rear said. "It's a lot of fun and a really neat experience. Baseball is different than basketball. Baseball throws you curves all the time. You think you've got it figured out, and you don't."

O'Rear was surprised that he received attention for his baseball talents.

"After I got playing basketball, the scouts asked me if I was going to play baseball," O'Rear said. "I told them 'Probably not.' I told them that I was just going to work out on basketball, but they asked me to try throwing a couple of times. I did, and they liked what they saw, and Cincinnati invited me to a workout.

"I started to think that maybe somebody would take a chance on me, maybe in the 40's, possibly the late 30's. Then the Reds told me it would be more like between the 12th and 15th rounds. I was like, 'Really?' That was a surprise. They were excited, because I hadn't played in a year and a half, and I was throwing in the low 90s."

In brief

Getting the thumb: Fort Wayne manager Jose Valentin, pitching coach Willie Blair, and players Matt Stites and Travis Whitmore were all ejected Tuesday night in an 8-2 loss to Bowling Green. Blair got the boot in the fifth inning, and Valentin and Stites were tossed in the eighth inning on a disputed home run by Bowling Green's Matt Rice. Whitmore was told to take a walk in the ninth inning after being called out on strikes.

Falling short: Dayton pounded out 16 hits, but it wasn't enough to deliver a victory for the Dragons on May 23. Lansing rallied for a 9-8 victory behind a bases-loaded two-out double by Carlos Perez in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dragons led 8-5 going into the ninth.

Big turnaround: Wisconsin right-handed pitcher Drew Gagnon is having an outstanding start to the 2012 season on the heels of a rough finish to 2011. Gagnon, who was drafted in the third round last season out of Long Beach State, was 0-3 with an 8.03 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) for Helena. This season, Gagnon is 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA.

Curt Rallo is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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