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College baseball feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by toolsofignorance, May 28, 2009.

  1. I've been meaning to post something here for ages, finally getting around to it. This is a magazine piece that was published about a month ago, on University of Florida pitcher Patrick Keating. Basically I just want to see what critiques and suggestions you might have for me, how I can make my features better. I appreciate any feedback; it's a longer piece, at roughly 2,000 words.

    Tough in the Clutch

    Ask anyone around the UF baseball program about their favorite Patrick Keating moment, and they will all tell you the same story.

    It was game two in the series against Vanderbilt, the last series of the regular season and one Florida needed to win to secure a postseason berth. The Gators took a 5-3 lead into the ninth, and reliever Josh Edmondson allowed runners on the corners with just one out.

    Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to his bullpen and brought in Keating to close out the game, in his first relief appearance of the year. The junior starter got the first batter to ground out to third base, which brought one runner home and advanced the other. With two outs and the tying run on second base, All-America Pedro Alvarez stepped up to the plate.

    Keating went right after the power-hitting third baseman in what was a tense and epic battle, Keating pumping strikes and Alvarez stubbornly fouling them off to keep the at-bat alive. It lasted for seven pitches, but felt much longer. Six of those pitches were strikes—including the last, when Alvarez whiffed to end the game and Keating pumped his fist in a show of passion that is emblematic of the kind of pitcher he is.

    That one at-bat sums up Keating’s presence on the mound: intense, emotional, competitive, focused, and more often than not, victorious.

    In his senior year, Keating has evolved into the veteran leader of the Florida pitching staff. Last season he came into his own and emerged as the staff ace in his first year as a starter, going 8-1 overall with 4.16 ERA, including an impressive 7-0 record in Southeastern Conference play with a solid 3.28 ERA.

    “He’s a bulldog,” says senior infielder Brandon McArthur.

    “He’s going to go after you,” says freshman starter Nick Maronde.

    “He’s a winner,” says O’Sullivan. “He’s confident, aggressive, and consistent.”

    “He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever met,” says reliever Billy Bullock.

    “I think Pat has had the talent to be an All-American since he stepped on campus,” says former teammate and good friend Darren O’Day. “His talent was obvious early on.”

    But Keating hasn’t always thrived in the bright Florida baseball spotlight. The road here was long, with its fair share of bumps, and it began in small-town Harrisburg, Ill.

    “Just like everybody else, I can’t remember not playing baseball, all the way back to T-ball when I was five years old,” Keating says.

    But young Patrick wasn’t just a one-sport guy. Along with baseball, he played football all four years of high school and even wrestled his sophomore year. (“Whatever sports they made up in the Midwest, he played it,” jokes O’Day.)

    It was only after leading Harrisburg High School to the state championship game as a sophomore, and the state title as a junior, that Keating really started to focus on baseball. He amassed a career mark of 29-1 with a miniscule .085 ERA, and his success on the mound attracted numerous collegiate suitors, including Missouri, Stanford, Illinois, and of course, Florida.

    In the end, Keating chose to become a Gator largely because of the attraction of playing in the SEC. But there were other selling points, too.

    “When I came on my visit obviously I was unbelievably impressed by the facilities, and the coaching staff,” Keating says. “We sat down and talked for a while, and I just felt like this was the right place for me.

    “A lot of kids where I played don’t get to programs like this, and it felt good to show people up there where I lived you can go out and play at a big place like this.”

    The small-town kid from Illinois didn’t break out right away, though. He pitched just three innings his freshman year and had an up-and-down sophomore year before starting to find himself as a reliever.

    When O’Sullivan and the new coaching regime took over, they made Keating a starter, and he blossomed in his new role.

    “He’s typically what you see from a northern kid,” O’Sullivan says. “You can really see the progress they make over the years in college. Typically you’ll see northern kids take a bit of a slower route because they’re not like the Florida kids or the southern kids where they get the chance to play twelve months out of the year.”

    Keating credits the new coaches for pushing him more and demanding the most out of him, as well as working with him to develop his third pitch, a changeup. But he sees his sudden transformation from middling reliever to ace starter as more a product of personal growth.

    “It’s been a little bit more of me maturing as a person and really focusing on baseball and not fooling around, fixing stuff off the field,” he says. “I really started to not take things for granted and realize that I’m here to play baseball, and not to do anything else.”

    That new attitude is evident not just in the way Keating handles himself, but in how he relates to the rest of the team as well.

    “When we first got here he was kind of quiet and unassuming, and he’s definitely more outgoing now, especially with the younger guys,” O’Sullivan says.

    Bullock, a junior, has seen the same change in his teammate.

    “He’s a lot more outspoken now, in the way he goes about his business, how he helps the younger guys,” says Bullock. “In the past he’d kind of just go with the flow and just take care of his stuff and not really take on that leadership role.”

    But now Keating embraces it. He talks to freshmen like Maronde and Alex Panteliodis between innings, after starts, and during practice, offering his senior insight by coaching them on certain situations and helping them pinpoint problems they’re having—then offering solutions. He aids them in evaluating their games and tells them to focus and not think too much on the mound, something he learned from O’Day when he himself was a green hurler fresh from Harrisburg.

    Mostly though, he leads the best way he knows how—by setting the tone himself.

    “I think he just leads by example on the field,” McArthur says. “He’s a guy that does it come game time.”

    If one thing stands out about Keating, it is his work ethic. His coaches, his teammates, and even Keating himself constantly talk about how hard he works and how much time he puts in to constantly improve.

    He’s worked on further developing his changeup. He’s worked on holding runners better. He’s worked tirelessly in the weight room during the offseason.

    “He comes off as this kind of laid-back, just chill kind of guy, but he goes out there every day and busts his butt in everything he does,” Bullock says.

    The bulldog mentality that takes over once Keating steps on the mound belies his laid-back, low-key demeanor off the field. When he’s not focused on baseball, in the rare time he has to himself, he just wants to take it easy.

    “I like to play cards sometimes, a lot of video games, just stuff like that,” Keating says.
    “It keeps your mind on other stuff. You focus a lot out here, you think about the game a lot off the field. You’ve gotta have some time off, you’ve gotta give your mind a break sometimes because you can get overloaded, you know?

    “You just try and take advantage of your time off and just relax and clear your mind, just try and be a normal student.”

    So there is Keating the intense pitcher and Patrick the easygoing college kid. But there’s another side to him, too, that might surprise those who don’t know him well.

    “He’s always having fun, the life of the party or the life of the situation,” Bullock says.

    “He’s not a quiet guy,” McArthur agrees, grinning. “I don’t want to make any strict stories or anything, but he’s definitely a jokester. He really likes to get everything going, and he really likes to chime in a lot.”

    Coincidentally, O’Day’s favorite memory of Keating is partly at McArthur’s expense. A few years ago, the three spent the day golfing with another former teammate, Andy Gale, who rode in McArthur’s golf cart. Keating and O’Day covertly unlatched their teammates’ golf bags so they would fall off the cart whenever they hit the gas.

    “We laughed hysterically every time because the other two kept falling for it,” O’Day says. “There were clubs strewn all over the fairway.”

    There were plenty of laughs at Keating’s expense that day, too. Forget earlier in the round when O’Day chased Keating with a dead armadillo and he almost jumped into a lake to get away from it. The Gators’ former closer was even more amused when he and
    McArthur conspired while Keating was taking a shot, deciding that when he came to get back in the cart, they would drive away.

    “I'll never forget the image of Pat chasing me on the cart for at least a quarter mile, until he was able to latch his club onto the back of the cart, Terminator-style, and be dragged for a hundred yards,” O’Day says. “I was laughing so hard that I was physically unable to drive anymore…so his strategy worked out.”

    Whether causing laughs or bearing the brunt of a joke, it’s clear Keating enjoys lightening the mood, especially with his teammates.

    “I definitely try to have a good time,” Keating says, laughing a bit. “I try to have fun and joke around a lot because you can’t take everything too seriously. There’s times to be serious and there’s times to have fun, and I definitely take advantage of that.”

    He also wants to take advantage of this last year of eligibility, seeing it as an opportunity to polish his skills and develop more as a pitcher, prove his worth to the scouts who have been noticeably on-hand during this early part of the season, and help the Gators reach their ultimate goal: Omaha.

    Always with Keating, it is about the competitive nature that was instilled in him from the time he was playing T-ball.

    “I love that kind of atmosphere, big games, big situations,” he says. “I want the ball every time when the game’s on the line.”

    Keating pitched with many a game or a series in the balance last season, and he came through almost every time.

    There’s another game from last year that is mentioned almost as often as the battle with Alvarez, and exemplifies Keating’s tough, determined nature all the more.

    “His complete game last year against LSU, he was in the training room sick all morning with the flu and he had to have an IV, but then he came out and had a complete game against a team that ended up in Omaha,” Bullock says. “That’s a pretty big benchmark for the rest of us.”

    Keating set the bar high last season not only for himself, but for every freshman who comes in and experiences the same struggles he worked through. O’Sullivan now likes to use Keating as an example for the younger pitchers, how hard work and focus can breed success over time.

    “He came in here, didn’t have a very good freshman or sophomore year, last year obviously broke out, and it shows them that even through the struggles, in the end they can be very successful,” McArthur says.

    Once a freshman struggling to catch up to the new level of competition he was facing, Keating has matured into the senior leader of a Florida staff full of new young arms. His mission this year is to guide them to the same success he has achieved as the Gators work to improve on last season.

    If there is one thing more valuable than the example of Keating’s transformation, it is the philosophy that goes along with it.

    “I’ve come a long way, obviously,” Keating says. “It’s been a long road, a lot of hard work. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. But you’ve just got to pick yourself up and keep going, you know?

    “Some days, when the day’s over, baseball’s just a game, so you kind of have to think of it that way and not beat yourself up too much. Just try and come in here and have fun. I get to play with my best friends every day on the field. What could be better than that?”
  2. spud

    spud Member

    Can/did you verify this?
  3. Den1983

    Den1983 Active Member

    Long, long read.

    I would break the article up with subheads,into sections. That way the reader isn't completely horrified by the length.

    I didn't particularly care for the lede.
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