Even before he starred at Roy C. Ketcham High School, Mike Orefice became enamored with baseball at Marist College.
“I’ve always sort of loved it here,” said Orefice, the starting first baseman on the Red Foxes’ baseball team. “Ever since I was 9, I was always at the summer camps here, and ever since my sophomore year in high school, I was like, ‘It would be really cool to head to Marist.’
“They liked me. I like them, and I’m really happy that it’s worked out.”
Orefice’s career with the Red Foxes has more than just “worked out.”
The senior infielder entered this weekend’s series against visiting Iona batting .342 on the season with two home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBI, all team highs, in 32 games.
Between his play at the plate and in the field — he came into the weekend playing error-free ball — Orefice is a major reason Marist is looking to reach its first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in three years.
“Since Day One, he’s been in the lineup,” said head coach Chris Tracz, referring to Orefice’s immediate impact as a freshman, “but his role — not only the way our team looks at him, but the way our coaching staff and the league looks at him as a player — now he’s one of the most feared guys around.”
Indeed, even after surgery on his right shoulder as a sophomore, Orefice has become one of the MAAC’s top players.
Still, despite leading Marist last season with four home runs, 27 RBI, 11 doubles, 27 walks, a .429 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging percentage, Orefice said that junior campaign, which followed the surgery, at times felt like a struggle.
“Last year, I was kind of up and down. There were weeks when I was feeling good, and there were other weeks where I was feeling down,” said Orefice, a former Poughkeepsie Journal all-star. “So far (this season), I’m as healthy as an ox — knock on some wood — and that has set me up well so far.”
Pat Mealy isn’t surprised to see Orefice excel at Marist.
The infielder’s head coach at Ketcham, Mealy said all of Orefice’s success is the result of his determination and work ethic, as well as his eagerness to learn as much as he can about the game he loves.
“Mike is an absolute product of hard work,” Mealy said. “He is still the most intellectual baseball player I know. He just knows how to play the game — inside and out. He’s like a coach on the field.
“He’s a great example for my kids to look at.”
In fact, Tracz said Orefice can be a role model for other local prep players.
While many Division I-caliber recruits from the area opt to play their collegiate ball outside Dutchess County, Orefice proves Marist is a viable option for players who’d like to continue their development close to home, his coach said.
“We’ve got some great programs at Arlington, Ketcham, John Jay, and this area is a great high-school baseball area,” Tracz said. “When we do get into recruiting, Mike’s name comes up, and usually it’s not necessarily from us — it’s from people in the area who know he was a really good player in this area, but now he’s at Marist, and he’s doing a really good job.
“It helps kind of get the conversation going, and it lends some credibility to what we’re doing and how we feel about, not only Mike, but the players in the area.”
Continued success, both individually and as a team, can only help Orefice and the Red Foxes in the community.
His father, Ken, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins, and his former and current coach said a professional career is a realistic possibility for the younger Orefice.
“Michael is going to be a pro,” said Mealy, adding his former protégé has continued to impress year after year. “At every level, he has exceeded expectations. He’s turned himself into a high-quality Division I player.”
Added Tracz: “He’s put himself in a position to not only finish his (Marist) career the right way here, but to also give himself an opportunity to continue playing.”
Since the start of the season, Orefice said he’s received interest from “four or five” big-league organizations, making the chance to play pro ball an “awesome” prospect.
“It’s like, ‘Wow!’ That’s real life right there,” said Orefice, who’s majoring in criminal justice. “Hopefully, something works out. If not, I’ve worked as hard as I possibly can.”
Not that he and the Red Foxes are looking past this weekend, let alone the rest of the season.
After the current Iona series, not to mention Wednesday’s eighth annual Hudson Valley Baseball Classic against Army at Fishkill’s Dutchess Stadium, Marist will still have more than a quarter of the season left, giving the Red Foxes time to position themselves for a berth in the league tournament in Trenton, N.J.
“I certainly want to make the MAAC tournament. We’ve missed out on that the past two years, which really, really hurts,” Orefice said. “We want to win the MAAC tournament, make a (NCAA tournament) regional and make some noise down there.”
If the Red Foxes do return to the postseason, Tracz said his first baseman will play a major role in Marist’s run toward the MAAC tournament.
“Our team goal, and I know his overall goal, is to get to the MAAC tournament and give himself a chance to play in a regional,” the coach said. “That’s been our goal from Day One, and he’s been the ringleader to it all.
“Once we get through that, then I think he’ll figure out the rest of it.”