By Jake Tiger
Amidst a stable of capable hitters, the high-horsepower bat of Rider baseball’s Brendan O’Donnell has managed to stand out from the herd. His fondness for sending baseballs over fences and trotting around bases has awarded him with an invaluable spot on the Broncs’ stacked lineup.
O’Donnell is unlike any other player on Rider’s roster or any player that has come through the school in years.
About three-fourths of the way through the 2022 season, the junior outfielder has already hit 10 home runs. That is more than any player from last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championship team, a team to which O’Donnell was not yet able to contribute.
“I think last year I was ready, but in a sense, when I got to the game I wasn’t ready,” said O’Donnell. “In practice, I was up-to-speed, but then as soon as I got in the game, everything was just super fast. I needed to really just take a step back and slow it all down and I feel like I’ve done a much better job of that this year… taking it pitch by pitch instead of trying to do too much.”
Now, the matured, easy-going O’Donnell has become a home run machine in his first season as a starter, only needing 18 games to reach seven home runs. This included a four-game stretch against Virginia University and the Virginia Military Institute where he homered in four consecutive contests.
“When you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re cold, you’re cold. You go through those streaks all year,” said O’Donnell. “There’s definitely times where you’re seeing the ball a lot better than you are on other days.”
The Malvern, Pennsylvania, native has typically remained on the hotter side this season. Of all Rider hitters with at least 40 at-bats, he leads in slugging percentage by far with .546 in 119 at-bats, the next closest batter having a slugging percentage of .444.
“I can handle the hard [pitches,] so I feel like pitchers know that they need to bring their best stuff if they’re gonna beat me,” said O’Donnell confidently. “If they get behind and get into a fastball count, that’s something they don’t wanna do.”
The heavy hands of O’Donnell have rocketed him up the MAAC’s home run leaderboard, as he currently sits at second in total homers, just one shy of first.
O’Donnell has earned a fearsome reputation amongst opposing pitchers, similar to that of a volatile, bubbling volcano liable to erupt at any moment.
“[O’Donnell] definitely gets pitched to differently than other guys on our team,” said Assistant Coach Lee Lipinski. “He’s a guy where they’ve gotta underline his name on scouting reports and say, ‘We’re not gonna let this guy beat us.’”
At 10 home runs with 17 games remaining, O’Donnell has a shot at reaching Rider’s single-season home run record of 17.
The idea of setting records intrigued O’Donnell but was not even on his radar.
“Personally, I didn’t even know [about the record,]” said O’Donnell. “Obviously, you wanna have the personal success. It’s really cool to have a chance to do that, but for me, I just wanna win… but it’d be awesome if I could do that.”
While O’Donnell stressed the importance of rings over records, there’s no doubt his hitting this season has struck a balance between the two.
The Broncs boast an impressive 8-2 record when O’Donnell homers.
In addition to home runs, O’Donnell leads the Broncs in RBIs, games with multiple hits, and funnily enough, strikeouts.
O’Donnell’s hefty, hyperactive bat has netted him a total of 44 strikeouts in 119 at-bats, 10 more than any other Bronc, but Rider’s coaches are more than happy letting the aggressive O’Donnell loose.
“We’re OK with [O’Donnell] striking out,” said Lipinski. “We want him to be swinging the bat. The more times he puts the barrel on the ball, the more times it’s gonna go over the fence.”
There’s no denying that O’Donnell can crush a baseball, but his coaches made it clear that the slugger works even harder than he hits.
“[O’Donnell’s] still got a long way to go, but as far as work ethic and character, he’s about as good as I’ve had in 33 years,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “He gives you 100%.”
A clear-cut leader for the Broncs, O’Donnell commands the respect of his teammates by setting the standards with his incessant infatuation with the grind.
“[O’Donnell] really dedicates himself,” said Lipinski. “He works out a ton and he’s a kid that hits probably more than he should. He should probably stop hitting sometimes because he needs to give himself a break.”
Already with a sizable foundation to build upon, O’Donnell and all of his hard work appear destined for legendary reverence, as he continues launching baseballs into the heavens and dotting the perimeters of baseball fields with tiny craters.
“In the next couple of years, he’s gonna be a scary guy to face,” said Lipinski. “He’s gonna continue to be at the top of the MAAC.”
However, as O’Donnell continues to grow, so does the pressure upon him. He will certainly have a lot of weight on his shoulders in the coming seasons, but he will still stand tall with just as much weight behind his bat.