For some kids who pick up a mitt and a baseball, playing in the big leagues is their ultimate goal.
For Southridge High School graduate Shawn O’Malley, playing for the Seattle Mariners is something like a dream come true.
“It’s a blessing,” O’Malley said. “Just the other day, (third baseman Kyle) Seager told me I’m living the dream. It’s the sort of thing you dream about when you’re a little kid in the backyard or playing Little League. The fact I ended up playing most of my career over on the East Coast and then ended up back over here, it’s truly a blessing.”
Drafted in the fifth round (139th overall) by Tampa Bay in the 2006 Major League Baseball draft, O’Malley, 28, had a long road to make it to the majors. He spent eight years in the (Devil) Rays organization before signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent before the 2014 season.
O’Malley made his major-league debut as one of the Angels’ September call-ups in 2014 and had a great first day on the job, going 2-for-2 with an RBI. But he only had one hit in his following 14 at-bats to end the season. The Angels then released O’Malley in December, and the Mariners picked him up a month later.
O’Malley was again a September call-up in 2015 for the Mariners, but a slew of injuries this season gave him a chance to establish himself in Seattle. He got called up from the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers on May 15 and hasn’t been back to the minors since.
“I think him getting there, and kind of knowing in his heart that he belongs there, has been huge,” Southridge baseball coach Tim Sanders said. “Think about it: He’s turning double plays with Robinson Cano, hanging out with Kyle Seager and those guys. I just think him being around those guys has helped him see things a little differently.”
While O’Malley’s numbers haven’t jumped off the page this season — entering Saturday, he was batting .244 with a .313 on-base percentage and four stolen bases through 53 games — the self-described scrappy ballplayer has been playing his role beautifully, doing whatever it takes to get on the field and make his team better.
“I’ve always been kind of a scrapper,” said O’Malley, who has played the bulk of his innings at shortstop. “(Reliever Drew) Storen calls me a grinder every day. That’s just the way I’m wired. My dad and my mom brought me up to work that way — always work hard and play hard. You can’t always control the results, but you can control your effort.”
He has been both athletic and unselfish enough to learn and play almost everywhere on the diamond, logging innings at every position but pitcher, catcher and first base this season. He started switch-hitting when he was 19 so right-handed pitchers couldn’t get an edge on him. And if his play on the field isn’t enough, his sense of humor and lighthearted personality have nothing but positive effects on the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“We could not do it without Shawn O’Malley,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in an interview with The News Tribune of Tacoma. “Without the value he brings to our team with the platoons and match-up (situations), you would need to carry two guys.”
It’s the same value O’Malley had for the 2004 Southridge team that won the first state baseball championship in school history. On a squad with top local talents such as Lonnie Lechelt, Matt Crowe and Tim Young, O’Malley — a sophomore at the time — was a role player in every sense.
He was the junior varsity team’s shortstop at the midpoint of the season. But when the varsity squad made its run through the state playoffs, eventually beating Kentwood in the Class 4A title game at Yakima County Stadium, O’Malley was playing right field and batting eighth.
For O’Malley, even 12 years later, just making a small contribution to his alma mater’s success means a lot.
“It was such a cool thing to be a part of. I still think about it,” O’Malley said of winning the state championship. “I made a catch in the game — it was a big catch — but it was a lot of my sophomore buddies who stepped up and made all the big plays, Jordan Reeder and Chad Arnold.”
Sanders said he uses O’Malley’s team-first, workmanlike attitude as an example for how he wants current Southridge Suns to approach baseball.
“Everybody today, if you’re a sophomore or a junior and you’re not the starting guy, today’s day and age, people are upset about it, you get phone calls from parents, all that kind of stuff,” Sanders said. “And I laugh at it, because, you know, ‘You’re not half as good as the kid that’s playing in the big leagues.’ And he just trusted what his coaches said and did exactly what he was asked to do, and it all worked out fine.”
With the Mariners’ everyday shortstop, Ketel Marte, hoping to return to the club sometime next week after a bout with mononucleosis, O’Malley has made a solid case to stay on the big-league roster with two home runs in three days, including a three-run blast Saturday against the Angels.
Even if O’Malley gets sent down to Tacoma when Marte returns, he would remain on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, and would return to Seattle when active major-league rosters expand Sept. 1.