McCabe: There’s no quit in Grand Ledge’s O’Keefe

McCabe: There’s no quit in Grand Ledge’s O’Keefe

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McCabe: There’s no quit in Grand Ledge’s O’Keefe

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Grand Ledge’s Pat O’Keefe, 70, had 1,203 career wins entering Thursday’s doubleheader against Okemos. “I still like dressing up and acting like a kid,” he said.

Grand Ledge’s Pat O’Keefe, 70, had 1,203 career wins entering Thursday’s doubleheader against Okemos. “I still like dressing up and acting like a kid,” he said.

If Pat O’Keefe hears the “R” question one more time …

The “R” question concerns retirement — specifically his retirement.

“Well, do you think I’m doing a bad job?” O’Keefe said he wants to ask people when he is asked about his possible retirement. “Am I failing at my work? What’s the problem?”

O’Keefe is hardly failing at his job as Grand Ledge’s baseball coach. This week, he became the first baseball coach in state history to win 1,200 games, and his total was 1,203 heading into Thursday’s doubleheader against Okemos.

O’Keefe was joined in the 1,200-victory club Wednesday when Larry Tuttle’s Blissfield team defeated Toledo Ottawa Hills. Like O’Keefe, Tuttle (1,200-388) began coaching in 1968 and also coached football for a couple of decades.

Perhaps O’Keefe keeps hearing the “R” question because he is 70. After spending 1969 in the minor leagues, O’Keefe returned to coaching in 1970 and has compiled a superb 1,203-305-1 record.

So, enough with the “R” questions already.

Besides, O’Keefe has retired twice. He retired from coaching football, where he won the 2000 Division 1 state championship, and from teaching in 2007.

How he responded to those retirements is one of the reasons why his wife, Melody, isn’t pressing him to retire from baseball.

“When I gave up football, Melody would call me up and ask what I was doing,” O’Keefe said. “I said I’m working around the house. She’d say: ‘No you’re not, you’re staring out the window looking at football practice. You’re looking across the way at practice, aren’t you?’

“I was thinking: ‘What the hell? Does she have a camera on me?’ Because that’s what I’d been doing.”

O’Keefe would act the same way if he gave up baseball, so he continues onward, trying to duplicate the state championships seasons of 1977 and ’95 with a team off to a 13-1 start this spring.

He has found ways to stay relevant with the game and remain in touch with kids, attending clinics and maintaining his ties to the successful Grand Ledge youth leagues.

One of the keys to Grand Ledge’s program from the youth level through high school is O’Keefe and the coaches don’t want their players to specialize in baseball.

O’Keefe has always preferred multisport athletes, a belief buoyed by his relationship with orthopedic surgeon Dr. C. Luke Wilcox, a St. Johns native who played briefly with the Yankees and did a surgical fellowship under renowned Dr. James Andrews before joining Michigan State’s Sports Medicine Team.

“Dr. Andrews believes that concentrating on one sport, lifting one muscle group, is causing more and more injuries,” O’Keefe said. “Luke and I are in agreement that the kids that are just doing one sport are missing out on a lot of things.”

Throughout his almost 50 years of coaching, O’Keefe has not missed much, and he wants to keep it that way, which is why is doesn’t like answering the “R” question.

“It’s like when they asked Nick Saban this year how long he was going to go and he said: ‘I don’t know anything else’ ” O’Keefe said. “Hell, I’ve been doing it longer than he has. I started playing organized ball when I was seven years old, and here I am 63 years later and I still like dressing up and acting like a kid.”

No one wants to retire from being a kid.

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or mmccabe@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1

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