Fitzgerald, Orr finding success in Division I college baseball
MOUNT VERNON — They remember the cheering crowds and the adulation of family and friends on Mount Vernon High School football Fridays and those humid spring afternoons on the baseball field, wearing the orange and black. Four years later, a pair of former Yellow Jackets’ athletes are still making noise on the field.
J.D. Orr and Ryan Fitzgerald, now college seniors, have been blazing their own paths in life. Both have made baseball their primary sport in college. While they will tell you that their best sport in high school was football, each was also part of a very good Jackets’ baseball team during their time in the Colonial City.
Now, Orr patrols left field for the baseball team at Wright State University, where he studies communications. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald studies nursing when he’s not playing center field at Oakland University in Michigan.
Of the two, Orr is making the most noise on the diamond, leading the nation in stolen bases with 42 for the Raiders. Along with that, he is being eyeballed by a number of professional baseball organizations.
“It has been a really good season,” said Orr. “We started out with a tough schedule and really built up from there. We play ranked teams early to teach us where our program needs to go. You get to learn a lot about yourself and your team against tough teams. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best, and that is what we do.”
Right now, the Raiders are the best in the Horizon League, carrying a 32-11 record, and Orr is no small part of it.
“This season, my best game was probably against Toledo,” Orr said. “I had four hits that day. It was just one of those games where everything was clicking.”
While Orr is looking forward to getting a degree soon, he is pursuing the dream of a professional baseball career. Although he can’t talk about the teams that are interested, he is a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan and would love to play for them.
“They know that my favorite team is the Indians,” Orr said. “Right now, though, I will go wherever I get the opportunity to play.”
Fitzgerald got off to a slower start this season. Now, he is battling an injury.
“This season has been a little bit different for me,” Fitzgerald said. “The last time we played against Wright State, I pulled my hamstring, so I haven’t played for a couple of weeks.”
Fitzgerald has gone through one of those inexplicable offensive skids that baseball players go through in their careers. The hits just aren’t falling. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald is proud of what he has accomplished as a senior.
“The most important things that have come out of this year have been my achievements toward my degree,” Fitzgerald said. “On the field, statistic-wise, it hasn’t been the best for me, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a good year.”
Fitzgerald was awarded the Holly Lepley Award recently. The award is given to the student-athlete who makes the most outstanding contributions in the classroom and in the community.
Still, Fitzgerald hasn’t completely given up on baseball. Last summer, he played in the Valley League in Virginia — a top summer league for collegiate players. Fitzgerald hit .285 and made the All-Star team. This college season, however, has had its ups and downs.
“I’ve never lined out so many times in my life,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s baseball. That’s the best I can say about it. I just want to hit one through a hole somewhere.”
Fitzgerald has already worked as an intern at St. John Hospital in Detroit and expects to be back there, as an extern, this summer.
“I love baseball and it would be great if everyone got drafted, but I have really decided on my career, which is nursing,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad I made that decision.”
Orr may turn out to be one of the lucky few who get drafted into pro baseball.
“I really chose baseball because it came down to the fact that I had a better chance of playing professionally,” Orr said. “Football would have been a tougher road. That was the deciding factor.”
Both will meet Thursday, head-to-head, for perhaps the last time in college. Both have been looking forward to that day.
“We keep in touch,” Orr said. “We always talk back to each other a little bit.”
Beneath the occasional smack talk are a pair of lifelong friends.
“J.D. is faster — barely,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m a little bit bigger than he is. I’m looking forward to playing him again. Wright State will be coming here on my Senior Day. Wright State is probably one of the top five mid-major baseball programs in the country, but we always manage to take one from them. I’ve known J.D. since I was four years old. Since the first time I picked up a ball, it’s been J.D. and I. Unless it’s a big situation, each one of us hopes the other gets a hit.”
Both of these young men will also be thinking about simpler times, when they stood together on the same side of the field and wore the same colors.
“Honestly, there are so many good memories at Mount Vernon,” Orr said. “Of course, the majority of those are running out on that football field on Friday night and getting to play in front of all those fans.”