Darien’s Sean O’Malley was off to a slow start at the beginning of this baseball season after missing time early on with a hamstring injury.
O’Malley did not play in the first two games and was not hitting anything his first three games back.
As he came to the plate against Trumbull, the Eagles bench jockeys had a few things to say to him.
O’Malley heard them.
He did not respond with words but rather by ripping a single to the outfield.
He has not looked back.
“The Trumbull kids were chirping at him and I think that fired him up,” Darien coach Mike Scott said “He’s the type of kid who feeds off that, he loves it. He loves being in those moments. When the spotlight is on him and the other team is giving him the business, it fuels him and he makes them pay. He was off for the first few games once he came back. All of a sudden, against Trumbull something clicked, he got that first hit and he was off and running.”
O’Malley, a first baseman and DH, has been hitting well ever since, providing pop in the middle of the Blue Wave lineup and having his best statistical season at the plate, including a 1.403 OPS through 14 games.
His numbers across the board are worthy of all-state consideration.
But O’Malley brings more to the plate than just his productive bat.
“Besides his offensive production, the leadership he brings in emotionally and with his intensity and what that does for us, speaks for itself,” Scott said. “He has become more of a complete hitter. He hits to all fields for power, he hits for average and he is better able to adjust at the plate. He gives pitchers fits because there is not one way to get him out.”
Darien is currently 13-4 overall and 10-3 in the FCIAC, sitting in third place in the league with a week to go in the regular season.
If Trumbull’s taunting helped get O’Malley going this season, it was another perceived slight by the Eagles two years earlier that helped establish O’Malley as one of the FCIAC’s top players.
As a sophomore, playing in the FCIAC championship at Harbor Yard, he watched as the two batters ahead of him were intentionally walked in the bottom of the eighth with the game tied.
O’Malley, a sophomore somehow not caught up in the enormity of the moment, ripped the first pitch he saw over the leftfielder’s head, bringing in the winning run and giving Darien its first FCIAC baseball title since 1981.
— GameTimeCT (@GameTimeCT) May 26, 2016
O’Malley, who will play college baseball at Salve Regina, would of course win many more titles at Darien.
He was a part of the football team which won the final FCIAC championship game in 2015 and won three-straight Class LL state titles in his time at the school.
He hopes to end his high-school career by bringing home a few more baseball championships.
“Our goal is to win the FCIAC championship again and hopefully a state championship,” O’Malley said. “Our pitching staff is set up perfectly for the playoffs. We haven’t had the best offensive year this year, but our pitchers have kept us in every game. Our pitchers have all done a great job, so far, this year.”
Starting with his freshman season where he was mainly a reserve player, O’Malley and the current seniors have been a part of the rise of Blue Wave baseball under coach Scott.
The school saw a lot of down years on the diamond but now are considered perennial contenders in one of the toughest conferences in the state.
O’Malley said the system Scott has put in and the way the seniors buy into it each season has made Darien baseball what it is today.
“It started with my brother’s (Michael O’Malley) year which was my freshman year. We had some really good captains and my sophomore year it really kicked into gear with the guys who were seniors that year when we won the FCIAC,” O’Malley said. “Those guys all set the tone for us and helped show us what it takes to be successful. It starts in the offseason, all the upperclassmen and the captains all push each other to try and make this as good of a year as we can.”
O’Malley is far from being self-centered, often deflecting questions about himself back to the team.
His coaches in both baseball and football say the same things about him, describing him as humble, quiet and sincere.
His teammates point to O’Malley as being that leader in games and at practice that drives the other players.
“Sean provides a leadership boost, offensive boost and in practice he is always there grinding on defense and offense,” Darien captain and catcher Arthur Xanthos said. “When we need a spark in games, he is always there to hit a double, get runs in, do whatever he has to do. He is the kind of guy who when you put him in, he makes everyone around him better just by being in the lineup. This year he has been huge for us.”
When O’Malley went down with the hamstring injury in preseason and was missing games, he said he was not overly frustrated, knowing he would be back.
It helped him having to go through a much more arduous recovery in the fall.
O’Malley injured his shoulder at the end of last baseball season and spent most of the summer trying to rehab it.
The rehab did not take and doctors told O’Malley he would need surgery to repair it but that he should be ready for the following baseball season.
O’Malley had another season in mind and on and the afternoon after his surgery, he made a phone call to Darien football coach Rob Trifone.
“He called me and he said, ‘I’m coming back,’” Trifone said. “And you know what? He had it in his heart he was going to come back and he never quivered no matter how hard he had to work at physical therapy and rehab. I was extremely impressed with his determination because I know he’s a really good baseball player and that’s what he’s going to college for. Most kids would not risk a ticket in baseball to come play football after that injury but that’s the type of kid Sean is.”
O’Malley would not return to the field until week 9 against Bridgeport Central but he was at practice every day with his helmet on, running sprints, motivating teammates and doing anything else he could to be useful until he could strap on the pads again.
“I was more of the music guy in the locker room,” O’Malley said. “It was tough missing that much of the season. Football is my second love but baseball is obviously my main priority. I told coach T, ‘I can’t guarantee I’ll be back, but I’ll be back.’ It was so important to me. I did physical therapy every day, running at practice and doing everything I could to get back. Being around the guys every day fueled me to get back.”
O’Malley was a bit rusty after missing that much time but by the Class LL semifinals and finals, he was one of Darien’s most important defenders along the line.
“It was a huge emotional lift for the team going into the playoffs and he caught fire the last two games,” Trifone said. “There is a fire burning in that belly that drives him. And none of it is for Sean O’Malley. Sean did all that for everyone else first and himself last. He is very loyal to his teammates and very loyal to his coaches. The coaching staff absolutely loves him.”
The same fire in his belly that drove him back to football is what helped him get that winning hit in the FCIAC finals and what got him going when the heckles came out of the Trumbull dugout.
That fire will certainly aid Darien baseball as it tries to get back to a title game later this spring.