A year ago, the Orioles hoped that Pat Connaughton would pitch in their system in 2015. Instead, he couldn’t get basketball out of his system.
Connaughton’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish were a delight to many in the last year’s NCAA tournament, losing a tough regional final to Kentucky. And, Connaughton’s basketball itch wasn’t scratched.
A year later, Connaughton is collecting an NBA paycheck with the Portland Trail Blazers. On Monday, he was scoreless in the last two minutes of the Trail Blazers’ 108-98 win over the Wizards at the Verizon Center.
Connaughton doesn’t get to play much. He’s averaging less than a point in the 17 games he’s appeared in.
“It’s been good. It’s been fun. You wake up every morning and can get better at one of the sports you love. It’s a pretty fun profession to say the least,” Connaughton told CSNmidatlantic’s Ben Standig before Monday’s game.
Connaughton was drafted in the fourth round by the Orioles in 2014 and pitched in six games for Aberdeen that year before he returned to Notre Dame for his senior year.
The Orioles would like Connaughton to return to baseball, and it sounds as if he hasn’t forgotten what’s he learned at Notre Dame.
“I’ve always said there’s a major correlation in the fact that basketball has really helped me. Physically, for baseball, I’m in a lot better shape than a lot of baseball guys or baseball pitchers. I’m more athletic than them just because of the nature of the sport. It allows me to pick up on things from a mechanical standpoint, pitching and pitching mechanics. It allows me to repeat things a lot easier than a lot of pitchers,” Connaughton said.
“Once I get a few starts or a few bullpens under my belt, I’m already in that mode, I know what things to tweak, and why I’m missing what I’m missing. Pro ball that one summer really helped me, and then the reverse side, the mental side puts you ahead of a lot of the basketball guys. A lot of the guys rely on the physical side. They don’t pay as much attention to the mental [side],” he said.
Portland coach Terry Stotts likes what he has seen from Connaughton, and said that his time in the Orioles organization was irrelevant to him.
“I don’t think that came into effect in the draft. He was a talented player when the draft was coming. We were hoping he was going to be there. We were hoping we were going to have that pick a few picks ahead of time. We were hoping he was going to be there. The baseball thing, it’s good to have options, but once he came to Portland, he was invested in being an NBA player, and that’s what he’s done,” Stotts told Standig.
Two sport major league athletes are rare, but the Orioles have experience with one. Mark Hendrickson played four seasons in the NBA before turning to baseball where he had a long major league career including three seasons with the Orioles.
“There’s two ways I always think about it. One way is whatever I’m doing that day is what I focus on solely. It’s a lot easier than people think for me just because I’ve lived it for 20 years, 19 years, since I was three, so I’m used to it, and it’s a lot easier to balance school, which is damn near a third sport at Notre Dame. It almost is a load off your chest. It’s all about guys’ mental makeup,” Connaughton said.
“Some guys, they enjoy getting away. They enjoy playing golf, they enjoy taking naps. For me pitching is that getaway. It doesn’t require as much physical stress besides on my arm. Even if it is on my arm, you can’t pitch every single day or else it would fall off. It’s something, I think, they balance very well. Since I’ve been playing for so long, I can balance it on a day-to-day basis.”