PENDLETON — The booming sounds of baseball gloves popping and bats cracking echoed throughout the Pendleton baseball indoor facility Wednesday afternoon, as a select group of Buckaroo youth had the chance to learn fundamentals of the game from some of the best players the school has produced in the past decade.
All week, kids have been swarming to the facility for skills camps with former Pendleton stars Alex O’Rourke (catching), Tommy Lane (hitting) and Lane Richards (fielding) with the spots for the camps purchased at the Buckaroo Booster auction. All three athletes have volunteered for the camps since they graduated from Pendleton and have enjoyed it every single time.
“For me, it’s pure fun,” said Lane, a 2013 graduate of Pendleton High. “It’s a fun time and it’s not a burden on me by any means.”
Lane, who stands with a sturdy 6-foot-7, certainly has enough experience and enough success to make the campers want to soak in every piece of information that’s shared in the four, one-hour sessions. A stellar career at Pendleton earned him a chance to play at Mt. Hood Community College, where he hit over .300 in both seasons and then earned a scholarship to play Division-I baseball at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
While at Marshall, Lane played in 108 total games over two seasons and hit 15 career home runs with 74 RBI. He earned Conference USA Newcomer of the Year as a junior when he hit for a .296 average with 13 home runs.
“I just hope to give a different point of view on baseball,” Lane said. “They could already be on the track to being a good player, or they could be struggling and something I say may flip a switch and if that happens for one kid out of 12 or 12 out of 12, that’s a big win for me.”
After graduating in the spring, Lane moved back to Pendleton and is currently trying to land an apprenticeship to become a journeyman electrical lineman. While still in Pendleton, Lane said he plans on volunteering to coach within the baseball program this spring.
For O’Rourke, who graduated from PHS in 2015, he put in a good amount of preparation on what he wanted to teach because he knows that opportunities to learn the nitty gritty fundamentals of catching can be scarce for youth baseball players.
“A lot of these kids haven’t had a lot of fundamentals taught to them yet,” he said. “So it feels good that I can come back and actually help somebody learn something that maybe I struggled with at that age or that I wish I had known. It’s a good feeling to actually impact the baseball program even though I’m not still a part of it.”
O’Rourke is one of the best catchers to come out of Pendleton’s program, becoming just the third player ever to earn four varsity letters in baseball. He then earned a scholarship to Division-I powerhouse Oregon State, where he transferred after just one season for a stopover at Linn-Benton Community College after he realized it just wasn’t the right fit in Corvallis.
“I was kind of focused more on looking at where I was going than what had happened in the past,” he said. “Being a part of that program was great and I learned a lot about myself ... it was hard to leave but in the end it was the right decision.”
Now O’Rourke calls George Washington University in Washington D.C. home, where he will have up to three years of eligibility remaining to play for the Division-I Colonels which compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference. As one of only four catchers on the roster and one of only two non-freshmen, O’Rourke expects to play a big role this season for the Colonels, which is one of the reasons that he chose to move across the country.
“They were the right program where they needed a catcher at the right time and it is a really good environment,” O’Rourke said. “The team’s looking good and I think we have a good shot to win the conference and get a bid to the tournament.”
Richards, who now lives in Seattle working for KPMG, parlayed a solid prep career with the Bucks into a scholarship to play at Notre Dame, where he was a four-year starter at shortstop for the Irish. He compiled a career .255 batting average but was a stellar defender with a .954 fielding percentage in 961 total fielding chances, experience he has gladly shared with the kids in Pendleton.
“I have definitely enjoyed doing the camps,” Richards said. “It’s nice to be able to give back to a community and a baseball program that helped develop me as a baseball player for 15 years.
“I hope the biggest takeaway for the kids doing the camps is that you can practice and get better at any sport while still having fun and enjoying yourself,” he added. “I also hope they appreciate the time and sacrifices their parents make for them to be able to attend camps and play the sports they love.”
In a matter of weeks, the indoor baseball facility will again fill with the sounds of gloves popping and bats cracking once again, as this next wave of Buckaroo stars prepare for the 2017 season.
Contact Eric at email@example.com or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.