O'Neill dealing with rigors of minors
Seven-plus-hour bus trips are becoming commonplace for Michael O'Neill as he learns the ropes of professional baseball.
O'Neill, a 2010 graduate of Olentangy Liberty High School, was selected by the New York Yankees in the third round (103rd overall) of the Major League Baseball draft in June. Now, the former University of Michigan standout is working through the everyday rigors of playing in the minor leagues.
In 40 games with the Class A Staten Island (N.Y.) Yankees, O'Neill, a right-handed hitting outfielder, was batting .248 (41-for-165) with 11 doubles, seven RBI, seven walks and a team-leading eight stolen bases.
Through Aug. 4, Staten Island was 19-27, last in the four-team McNamara Division of the New York-Penn League and five games behind first-place Hudson Valley, which was 25-23.
"Playing every day, the long bus trips, they're something you have to get used to in professional baseball," said O'Neill, the nephew of former Yankees and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Paul O'Neill. "The (professional) game is a little faster (than college), the breaking balls are better, the fastballs have more velocity.
"I honestly didn't think the schedule would be this grueling. The teams we play are on the East Coast, but you can be on a bus seven, eight hours at a time. A lot of those trips are overnight, so I can sleep, listen to music or call (home) when it's earlier."
O'Neill compiled a .331 career batting average at Michigan, leading the team in hitting all three seasons (.307 in 2011, .327 in 2012 and .356 in 2013). He also had 37 doubles, 13 home runs and 97 RBI, and his 72 stolen bases are fourth-best in program history.
"Those were the three best years of my life, so far," said O'Neill, who was third-team All-America this spring. "The people I met, the education, the facilities, everything was top-notch. Without the people and that experience (at Michigan), I wouldn't be in the position I am in now."
One aspect of O'Neill's game that has remained consistent from college is his defensive play. He has two outfield assists after having 18 in three seasons at Michigan, 10 coming during his freshman year.
O'Neill always has approached the game in a business-like manner, but now baseball has become his business. He is passionate about his career.
"I watch all of my at-bats on video and try to find the things that I'm doing well and what I need to work on," he said. "I have made some adjustments in the two months I have been here. There have been some growing pains, but I pick up something new every day."
O'Neill also was drafted in the 42nd round by the Yankees after his senior year of high school. He opted to attend Michigan, and was thrilled to get a second chance to sign with his favorite team from childhood.
"It was exciting to get re-drafted by the Yankees and it was really a dream come true," said O'Neill, the son of Mike and Sandy O'Neill of Powell. "Watching my uncle play there was great, and it was pretty cool since I was a Yankees fan growing up. Anytime you can play for one of the best organizations not only in baseball, but in all of professional sports, it's special. I want to go out and represent them as well as I can."
The Manhattan skyline is the backdrop for Staten Island's Richmond County Bank Ballpark, fitting considering Paul O'Neill's legacy in New York.
"This has been his dream and something he has been working for since he was 10 years old," Mike O'Neill said of his son. "And it's great for him to be drafted by the Yankees again.
"He has grown up around the club and he's been in the clubhouse. He's gone face-to-face with (former Yankees manager) Joe Torre and others. He couldn't be happier about being with the organization. Now he plays for a team they have nicknamed 'the Baby Bombers.' "
But as he envisions playing for the Bronx Bombers, O'Neill is getting acclimated to the grind of professional baseball.
"I just try to play the game as hard as I can daily," he said. "There are so many adjustments to make, and I just try to soak up as much as I possibly can. I try not to worry about specifics because this is short-season (Class) A ball. I'm going to learn things that I can use for years to come."