• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

O’Reel wants to continue baseball journey beyond college

J.T. O’REEL hopes to continue playing baseball in an independent professional league. The Woodford County High School graduate is pictured wearing shorts from his past as a Kentucky Rocker, a shirt from playing at Alabama A&M and a cap from his junior college days at Roane State. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Baseball has been a big part of J.T. O’Reel’s life. He has played this game – often described as America’s Pastime – for 18 years and wants to explore opportunities to continue playing.

Knowing the pay’s terrible for professional players in the independent leagues, O’Reel, 22, says he’d like to continue playing “for a few years if I can. And that’ll help me get my foot in the door for coaching” so he can remain in baseball.

His coaches at Roane State Junior College and Alabama A&M – where O’Reel played collegiate baseball – are helping. One got him a tryout with a pro team, he says.

O’Reel was scheduled to work out in St. Louis with the River City Rascals in the independent Frontier League this week and says he has other tryouts in coming weeks.

His strategy for success is pretty simple, “just be scrappy, as scrappy as I can … Doing the little things right. I’ve been told they look at hustle, so just hustling everywhere,” says O’Reel.

Asked about playing positions other than shortstop (his natural position), O’Reel describes second base, where he played his freshman year at Woodford County High School, and shortstop as “pretty interchangeable.”

“Now third base,” he adds, “that’s the hot corner so that might be a little different.”

After winning a state title at WCHS in 2012, O’Reel realized playing collegiate baseball was going to be unlike any other experience he’s had on the diamond.

“I knew I was going to have to step my game up,” he says.

His initial offers to continue playing after high school came from NAIA and Division II schools, but O’Reel chose a different route and played junior college ball.

A fractured leg sustained while playing summer ball after his freshman year at Roane State nearly derailed his plans to play Division I baseball. A full-ride offer from Alabama A&M came about midway through his sophomore season, and he knew “I couldn’t turn it down.”

After being the toughest hitter to strikeout in the nation his junior year (six strikeouts in 205 at bats), O’Reel sat out a season as a red shirt. It was an opportunity to get stronger physically, but more importantly not playing gave him a chance to watch the game and “slow everything down,” which he says helped him a lot going into his senior season when he “had the best season I’ve ever had in my life.” His batting average was .333 with 5 home runs and 32 RBI in 186 at bats.

O’Reel mostly played shortstop growing up, but also pitched in youth leagues and a bit in high school. He returned to the mound as a reliever during his senior year at Alabama A&M – pitching 11.1 innings with a 2.38 ERA.

O’Reel’s brother, Josh, coaches at Woodford County Middle School, and dad Kevin O’Reel coached both his sons and was an assistant coach for the WCHS state title team.

My dad “did have a big influence on me both going to college (where he earned a sports management degree) and wanting to play after,” says J.T. O’Reel.

Reporter’s note: O’Reel says he will keep The Woodford Sun and its readers informed about his progress as he continues his journey to play professional baseball.

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