Southern Nevada’s Remarkable Joey O’Brien

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

HENDERSON, Nev. — It’s extremely rare to see a college baseball player in the United States who comes from Okinawa, Japan.

But that is precisely what the College of Southern Nevada has in Joey O’Brien, a skilled 5-tool player.

A graduate of Kitanakagusuku High School in Okinawa, he is the son of John and Akemi O’Brien. John served in the U.S. military for many years when he was stationed in Okinawa.

What makes the story even more compelling is that Joey is truly a gifted baseball player who can do it all for the Coyotes.

He is not only a talented righthanded pitcher who has touched 94 mph with a 5-pitch mix, but the 6-foot-2, 205-pound sophomore also plays centerfield and leftfield when not pitching and is a polished hitter.

Through 42 games, he is hitting .356 with 8 homers, 8 doubles and 46 RBI. He has a keen eye at the plate as he has walked 29 times and been hit by pitches 9 times with an on-base percentage of .491 and 45 runs scored.

On the mound, he has 38 strikeouts and only 4 walks with a 1.61 ERA for the first 20 innings this season. At one point, he had 29 strikeouts and only 1 walk.

O’Brien, who has signed to play for the University of Hawaii next season, could be a top 10 round pick next June in the Major League Draft.

His training as a Japanese player was very different than what Americans experience. A typical practice in the USA will last two hours or slightly longer.

But in Japan, he would practice five hours a day during school days from 3-8 p.m. and eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

How in the world does a baseball player from Okinawa, Japan get to Las Vegas which is 6,500 miles from home and a 21 hour series of flights?

“That’s a long story,” said Southern Nevada Head Coach Nick Garritano.

“One of our former baseball players knows Joey’s uncle (Gary Chaney) who lives in Las Vegas,” said Garritano.

“His uncle asked our player a little about the program, and he told him how successful we have been over the years. We were ultimately sent a video of Joey from Okinawa in a workout, and we were very intrigued.

“We got in touch with Joey and asked him if he wanted to come out and see our college and work out for us. He did, and we thought he was a superb player. Joey liked our school and program as well. Before you knew it, we had a player from Okinawa Japan.”

Great Bloodline
O’Brien made the long trip from Okinawa by himself and was picked up at the airport by his uncle who he has lived with during his stay in Las Vegas.

“We will get kids from Hawaii because of a recruiting connection we have with assistant coach Sean Larimer. But this is a first for our program to get someone from Okinawa, Japan.

“It is definitely a long way from home for Joey, but he has done a great job of adapting to the American culture. He is still learning. Joey grew up his entire life in Okinawa and is fluent in Japanese. His father is a retired member of the U.S. Military. That is where he met his wife.

“They have two children. Their son Richie was picked last year in the Japanese baseball draft in the third round. So there is a great baseball bloodline there in the O’Brien family.”

Garritano said another major adjustment Joey had to make was acclimating to the intense heat of Las Vegas when he arrived.

“When our kids show up here in late August, it is typically 112-115 degrees, and it is a dry heat. It just gets you if you have never experienced it. Last August, it was very unusual with 20 percent humidity on some of those really hot days. It was just miserable.

“The kids get after it, and it takes a couple of weeks for them to get used to it. Joey did a great job of adapting to the heat. August and September are two very hot months here. But it cools off nicely in October and is beautiful through the spring season.”

Garritano said O’Brien told him that growing up in Japan, coaches hammered home the point of throwing strikes with his 4-seam fastball.

“In fact, when he got here, our pitching coach began talking to him about throwing a 2-seam fastball and a cut fastball in addition to his 4-seamer. Joey looked at him and said, ‘No, no, no. We don’t do that in Japan. We throw 4-seamers straight.’

“It was explained to Joey that in the USA, we want to get movement with fastballs because it makes hitting pitches much more difficult. He has done a great job of adjusting to this concept.

“He told me that there is much more live game repetitions in a practice setting than back home in Okinawa. That goes for defensive work, pitching and hitting. When he worked on pitching in Okinawa, he focused on the 4-seam fastball hitting spots.

“He told me that we go over a lot more in our shorter practices. But back home, they do the same thing over and over again in lengthy practices to master concepts.

“As far as hitting, it was a lot different as well. As with many Japanese hitters, he has a short swing. When he got here, he told me he wanted to Americanize his swing. We told him it wasn’t necessary because his swing was extremely sound. It wouldn’t be wise to change it. It has worked extremely well for him.”

To read more of this story, purchase the May 4, 2018 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.

It delves into much more about Joey O’Brien and what amazing skills he brings to the table.