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07/08/2024 02:17 PM

O’Connor Craved Perseverance as Second Team All-Shoreline Selection for NB Baseball

Junior center fielder Jason O’Connor will be a senior captain for the North Branford baseball team next year after being honored as a Second Team All-Shoreline athlete this spring. The Thunderbirds claimed their first conference crown in 20 years. Photo courtesy of Jason O’Connor

Jason O’Connor loves the basic teaching nature of the sport of baseball and how it mirrors life. He used that to become a great reflection and model of persistence for the North Branford baseball team in helping it achieve a long awaited return to the top.

The North Branford junior started with the sport of baseball at a very early age of 3. While also playing basketball up until high school, Jason stuck with the diamond. This year, while serving in center field and also pitching, the captain earned Second Team All-Shoreline honors while more importantly helping to lead the Thunderbirds to their first Shoreline Conference crown in 20 years.

“With baseball, I love how difficult it is. It teaches you about life, facing adversity, and to keep going,” says Jason. “My success just comes from putting in countless hours of practice, along with spending a lot of time in the weight room. I also think one thing that has helped me is watching Major League Baseball and seeing the professionals of the sport fail, but yet they go right back out there the next inning or at bat.”

As a veteran in the heart of the outfield, Jason champions himself as a focal point of communication with the remainder of the defensive alignment for the T-Birds. He adds the unpredictable nature of the ball’s trajectory gives the game an added level of excitement and intrigue in his eyes.

“I have played center field for probably about seven years, and it is pretty cool because there is a lot of communication that takes place between the outfielders and infielders. There is also a lot of reading the batters, their swings, and the ball,” Jason says. “It is really special and a lot of fun to play when it comes to making those adjustments. It can be tough with positioning yourself out there because the ball could drop anywhere.”

While finding some literature to help him craft a more sound mentality for such a fickle sport based on averages, Jason explains that regardless of what fortune is thrown his way on a given day, he needs to simply forge on and take advantage of the next opportunity to improve that is always on stand by.

“When you are younger, you really expect to succeed because you practice so much. But there are times where you can hit the ball off the screws and be out,” Jason says. “H.A. Dorfman was a MLB pitching coach and wrote a book called, ‘The Mental ABCs of Pitching’, which helped me and made me realize I had to improve my mental game. When you have a rough day, you have to shake it off and realize there are always more games and practices to improve.”

With the right equipment around the program in practice, Jason has helped the Thunderbirds become one of the more stingy, sound, and disciplined defenses in the Shoreline Conference. He admits his skills at the dish could use some sharpening, but it is nothing he cannot accomplish.

“I’d say my stronger skills are on the defensive side, and it comes from us shooting about 1,000 balls into the sky with our machines. The pop ups we see help to shape our defense,” says Jason. “I would say my weakness right now is my hitting. Yet it is something that is always tough, and a struggle, but I will continue to work at it.”

Certainly locking up the team’s first conference crown in two decades is something that can never be wiped from anyone’s memory banks, Jason explains the uniqueness and takeaways from the campaign go much deeper. It is about the friendships founded through the grind of the season’s slate that formulated the success seen in the headlines and box scores.

“This past season was one I will never forget. It was special to me because I remember going through the personal cycle of going to the high school games when I was in middle school, looking up to the players, and being so excited to play for the team one day,” Jason says. “This run was so special; we built bonds that will last a lifetime.”

T-Birds’ Head Coach Billy Mitchell can only use superlatives when speaking to the way Jason carriers himself both while playing the game and in the clubhouse as a teammate and emerging leader.

“Jason is the type of kid every coach wants on his team,” says Mitchell. “He practices hard and plays hard. Whether he is playing in center or pitching, he is unfazed by anything. He plays the game hard and the right way. I have had him for six years, as I coached him in 14-U legion ball prior to high school, and he has never complained about anything even once. He is one of the best kids I have ever coached.”

Jason has earned the promotion to captain already for the 2025 campaign based on his merits and motivational spirit as a leader. The objectives are constantly present in the collective psyche of the team. While they would certainly love to run it back in the Shoreline, they are additionally hungry for that bigger team crown after a run to the state quarterfinals this June.

“Our goals for next year are things we will think about every day and talk about,” says Jason. “We want to chase another Shoreline title, and a state title is definitely on our minds. We thought we could have made a deeper run in states this year. But we definitely want to chase those championship banners next season.”