Three days ago, Pat Connaughton took the field, dawning the customary but flashy, orange and black jersey of the Aberdeen Ironbirds. He tossed 4.2 scoreless innings against the Tri-City ValleyCats, allowing one hit and striking out two batters in relief of starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
His command was on all night and he left to a loud ovation, marking his last start for the Baltimore Orioles’ Class-A affiliate. He finished his time with the Ironbirds with a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings pitched; not bad for a first-year professional.
“It was awesome. This was an extended time to see what pro baseball is like,” Connaughton said. “To learn from these guys in this clubhouse, it goes a long way for me. Everything I learn is a credit to them and the coaches in this clubhouse.”
Many fans rooting him on that night weren’t aware that it was his last appearance in Aberdeen. The New York-Penn League season ends on September 1, but Connaughton’s ended on July 29.
That night, he packed his bags, said goodbye to teammates, and boarded a plane headed towards South Bend, Indiana. No, he wasn’t traded. No, not promoted to another level. Pat Connaughton was headed for his senior season for Notre Dame’s basketball team.
Today, Connaughton no longer boasts the customary orange of the Ironbirds. Now, he’s back into the famous blue-and-gold color scheme of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He’s now starting his preseason training with the team, which includes a trip to Italy to play against professional teams starting Tuesday.
Not a bad week.
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Connaughton is one of few college athletes that play multiple sports, but the list gets smaller when you combine college sports with professional ones. However, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard/forward/pitcher is managing both smoothly.
“It’s really an honor that the Orioles let me play pro ball in the summer and face competition that I’ve never faced before,” he said. “I still get to back to school and graduate, because you can’t play sports for the rest of your life. I’m kind of trying to hedge my bet in all areas.”
Connaughton’s love for baseball bloomed before it did for basketball. When he was a child, he couldn’t help the urge to throw anything he could pick up, sometimes objects he had no business picking up.That knack turned into a skill when he got into baseball. By high school at St. John’s Prep, the Arlington, Massachusetts native was drawing interest from various colleges. As a pitcher and third baseman, Connaughton batted over .400 and posted an ERA below 2.00. He even threw a no-hitter in 2011.
Colleges were certainly after what many were calling Top 5-round MLB talent. The interest, though, wasn’t as strong for basketball, but that would soon change. He said the fact that many doubted his potential in basketball made him work even harder.
“Everyone said ‘oh, he’s a good basketball player, but he’ll be a pro baseball player,'” he said. “I always wanted to prove them wrong in basketball . . . just because people said I wasn’t as good as I was at baseball.”
Connaughton was well on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer at St. John’s Prep when he decided to travel to national tournaments for basketball. Achievements like averaging 30 points and 20 rebounds at the 2010 AAU Nationals helped him garner interest from large Division-I schools.
Many schools offered Connaughton the chance to play both sports and he decided to go with Notre Dame, with head coaches Mik Aoki (baseball) and Mike Brey (basketball). Both coaches were on board with him playing two sports throughout his college career.
“Without Coach Brey and Mik Aoki, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” he said. “When I was going through the recruiting process, there were a lot of top-notch colleges that were going to let me play both. Notre Dame was really pushing me to do both, they wanted me to do both, they wanted me to succeed at both, and that says something. They don’t just care about the business side of things in their sport, they want to see their athletes and students do the best they can at everything they do.”
His talent was evident during his freshman year, where he played in every Notre Dame basketball game and finished third on the baseball team with 10 starts. Sophomore year, he became a full-time basketball starter and pitched to a 1.71 ERA.
Junior year, he became one of the ACC’s top basketball players and started another 10 games for the Irish in early 2014.
Then, it came time to hear his name called in the 2014 MLB Draft. He was picked in the 38th round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2011, but nothing compared to being selected in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles in June.
From there, he was sent to Aberdeen to get a chance to focus on baseball for the first time in his life. He joined his third team in the last year and was successful in his first test in professional ball. The Orioles are hoping after Connaughton graduates in December and the basketball season ends, he’ll join the team for spring training.
However, his time with the Ironbirds and baseball has ended and Notre Dame will again be his focus. The Irish begin their season in November and Connaughton will be one of the top returners. He averaged 13.8 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game last year, so they Irish will look to him for leadership and offense.
With so much going for him in both baseball and basketball, the future looks pretty bright. The question still remains: Which future?
“In an ideal world, I become an NBA draft pick and I’m able to do both. The Orioles let me pitch in the summers and the basketball guys let me play basketball in their seasons. I know you have to look at things a little more realistically, but you have to shoot for that. You have to shoot for your dream.”