After three years chasing his major league baseball dreams with the Houston Astros, Pat O’Keefe saw the writing on the wall.
O’Keefe realized he wasn’t advancing anywhere in the Houston system with standout Joe Morgan ahead of him at second base. And he decided to stop chasing that dream to return to Grand Ledge where he had coached varsity baseball and junior varsity basketball and football.
“I said that’s it and I’m hanging up my spikes, and lo and behold the next year (Morgan) went to Cincinnati,” O’Keefe said. “But I don’t regret that an ounce because I went on to stay at Grand Ledge permanently and have had a career that’s been a lifelong love affair.”
That love affair for O’Keefe has included a state record 1,190 wins in 47 seasons leading the Grand Ledge baseball program. O’Keefe will be recognized for his success leading the Comets Thursday when he is among an elite group enshrined into the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooley Law School Stadium prior to the Lansing Lugnuts’ contest against Wisconsin.
O’Keefe will join John Smoltz, Al Kaline, Alan Trammell, Charlie Gehringer, Hal Newhouser, Bill Freehan, Jim Abbott, Ernie Harwell and fellow prep coach Larry Tuttle in the hall’s inaugural class.
“That’s certainly something I’m really proud of,” O’Keefe said. “I probably don’t deserve to be in there with that group of people. I haven’t personally been like most of those, like an Al Kaline, John Smoltz and those kind of people. They did something individually and mine certainly isn’t an individual award. It’s a family and a community award.”
For nearly five decades, O’Keefe has helped develop baseball talent in Grand Ledge and built winning teams.
“He was just an intense coach driven by fundamentals,” said Scott Kemp, who played for O’Keefe in the late 1970s. “That was driven into us all the way through the program there.”
O’Keefe built on the success started by the late Charlie Gorman and has turned Grand Ledge into one of the state’s top programs. Since taking over the program in 1968, O’Keefe has guided the Comets to 23 of their 25 Diamond Classic titles. That has included winning the tournament six of the last seven years.
Grand Ledge won state championships in 1977 and 1995 under O’Keefe, who became the second baseball coach in state history to reach 1,000 career wins in April 2010.
“I don’t know too many guys that know more about baseball than he does,” said Mike Rademacher, who played for O’Keefe and now is his assistant. “It’s not like he just stands back and lets everybody else do stuff. He’s right in there doing batting practice, doing work with drills. He’s certainly a hands on guy.”
O’Keefe never expected to be coaching long enough to put together the career he has, but is thankful for the support he’s received.
“It’s just something that as time goes by you have to be fortunate that the good Lord gives you your health,” O’Keefe said. “There’s so many factors that’s involved in (coaching longevity). I feel bad for the young coaches that they have the kind of pressures that they have.
“I’ve enjoyed the wonderful relationship with my community and school district and there’s things they certainly have done for me that probably a lot of deserving coaches don’t get the opportunity to do.”
MICHIGAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS
•Jim Abbott — University of Michigan/California Angels pitcher
•Bill Freehan — Detroit Tigers catcher
•Charlie Gehringer — Detroit Tigers second baseman
•Ernie Harwell — Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster
•Al Kaline — Detroit Tigers outfielder
•Hal Newhouser – Detroit Tigers pitcher
•Pat O’Keefe — Grand Ledge coach
•John Smoltz — Waverly/Atlanta Braves pitcher
•Alan Trammell — Detroit Tigers shortstop
•Larry Tuttle — Blissfield coach