• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

O’Reel takes coaching job at Roane State Community College

J.T. O’REEL has begun a career in coaching at Roane State Community College, where he played shortstop for two years. “I love it,” said O’Reel of being around baseball. “I don’t know what I’d do without it, honestly.” (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Woodford County High School graduate J.T. O’Reel says he’s excited about continuing his baseball journey as an assistant coach at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tenn.

He began his coaching duties there Monday, Aug. 20.

“I’m overseeing the hitting and infield (instruction),” said O’Reel during a telephone interview last Thursday. “… we’ve got three days under our belts already and I’m enjoying it. I’m glad I took this position.”

Living in a one-bedroom apartment near Kingston, O’Reel describes Harriman (population just over 6,000) as “a really small town,” somewhat like his hometown of Versailles.

O’Reel said returning to Roane State, where he played his first two seasons of collegiate baseball after winning a state title at WCHS in 2012, was an opportunity to gain coaching experience and move up. It’s exactly what he did as a player – moving on to play shortstop at Alabama A&M, where he was the nation’s toughest hitter to strike out his junior year.

During his collegiate years, O’Reel said he always had “a really good relationship” with his coach at Roane State, Zack Sterner. In fact, it was Sterner who helped him get a tryout with the Frontier League’s River City Rascals in St. Louis.

Unfortunately for O’Reel, his tryout was cancelled after River City signed a shortstop released by the Chicago White Sox’s AA minor league team.

“I was really bummed out about that,” remembered O’Reel, who had already turned down an offer to play professionally for an independent league baseball team in New Mexico. “So then I was like, well maybe (playing pro baseball is) not meant to be.”

O’Reel had always planned to get into coaching after his playing days so, “I might as well get a head start on it,” he told himself.

It was Sterner who came through for him again when he offered his former shortstop a coaching job on his staff at Roane State.

“I feel like I’m getting recruited again,” said O’Reel, of this coaching opportunity.

“So I plan on being here for a few years and then, hopefully, moving up. I don’t know what path I’ll have to take – maybe, Division II or NAIA, and then move up to Division I, hopefully.”

In addition to giving infield and hitting instruction to his players at Roane State and getting them ready for games next month, O’Reel said he’ll work baseball camps at the University of Tennessee and Eastern Tennessee State University to earn extra income.

“I love it,” said O’Reel of being around baseball. “I don’t know what I’d do without it, honestly.”

Though he’s still getting used to being called coach, O’Reel says he likes sharing what he learned as a player with his players. “I try to teach them something new every day,” he said.

Roane State players have already asked him to stick around after practice for additional hitting instruction. And the other day, they asked him to get into the batter’s box after practice. “Yeah, I’ll get in here and hit,” he told them.

O’Reel said he’s pretty much given up his dream of playing professional baseball “unless somebody gives me a random phone call one day.”

Reporter’s note: O’Reel says he’ll share some of his thoughts about coaching players during games in a follow-up article on his baseball journey.

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