Harrison’s O’Donnell catches fire at right time

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison sophomore third baseman Mike O’Donnell.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison sophomore third baseman Mike O’Donnell.


Mike O’Donnell had a huge obstacle to handle while he was growing up in Harrison.

He was the only boy in a family of girls, with his older sisters all turning out to be excellent athletes during their heydays at Harrison High.

“It was tough, because they always made fun of me,” Mike O’Donnell said. “They sort of picked on me.”

Mike O’Donnell had to watch as older sisters Christina, Briana and Amber all made a name for themselves playing a variety of sports at the school. In fact, Amber is currently a senior and a member of the Blue Tide softball program.

“Having my sisters as good athletes really motivated me, because they were all good,” O’Donnell said. “I wanted to be just like them.”

It appears as if O’Donnell is reaching that status, both at home and with the Blue Tide.

“It’s getting to that point and that really excites me,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell, who is also the starting quarterback for the Blue Tide during the football season, got a little taste of varsity baseball last year as a freshman.

“He came up late in the year when our third baseman got hurt,” Harrison head baseball coach Jairo Mendez said. “He finished the season with us at third base and did a good job. I thought coming into this season that we already had our third baseman.”

“It definitely gave me confidence coming into this season,” said the sophomore O’Donnell. “I always knew I could do it, but I had to work harder now because it was my time to shine. I went to all the off-season workouts to get ready. I did whatever I could to become better. I always keep adapting myself, so this way, I can get better for the next game.”

Mendez had a feeling that O’Donnell would have a breakout season this year.

“He was bigger, more mature, smarter,” Mendez said. “After seeing him last year to this year, I knew he was a better player.”

Mendez inserted O’Donnell as his lead-off hitter and it was a marriage made in heaven.

“He’s been filling that spot well,” Mendez said. “I think having him at lead-off really picked up his game. He’s being patient at the plate and he’s attacking fastballs, especially early in the count. He jumps on those. He had some struggles early on, but he didn’t get down on himself and stayed with it.”

Last week, O’Donnell had a game that most players simply dream about.

Against Bergen Charter, O’Donnell went 5-for-5, including a home run and a double, with six RBI. He also scored six runs.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do that good,” the humble O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell followed up his monstrous game with two hits in three at-bats against Dwight-Englewood. He also had a key RBI in the Blue Tide’s win over Linden.

For his efforts, O’Donnell has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

O’Donnell doesn’t know what sport he’s better at. He will more than likely remain as the team’s starting quarterback this fall.

“I’m always trying to get better in both sports,” O’Donnell said. “I just want to get better and better.”

Mendez believes that O’Donnell has limitless possibilities.

“He definitely has a lot of potential,” Mendez said of O’Donnell, who is now batting .326 with two homers and 13 RBI for the season – half of that production all coming in the one game.

“He certainly has a bright future,” Mendez said. “This big game was a little bit of a surprise, but I thought he had it in him. I hope he keeps that approach of feeling confident.”

Mendez said that he’s used O’Donnell in several different roles this season, trying to find him a permanent role.

“He played second base, third base and he’s our backup catcher,” Mendez said. “Eventually, I’d like to see him pitch a little. He’s a strong kid who has the arm. He can play anywhere on the field. I absolutely like the idea he wants to play anywhere we need him. He’s really maturing into a good player for us.”

O’Donnell has to be a positive role model as well. After all, he has a little sister, Hayley, who is an aspiring athlete as well. It’s definitely all in the family in the O’Donnell household, just with more of a female touch.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer