Sean O’Connor desperately wanted to wear the Framingham South High School baseball uniform, back in the late 1970s. His dream from the time he could grip a baseball was to take the mound for the Flyers.
“But I found out freshmen couldn’t play varsity,” he said. “That irked me. It really bothered me because I knew I could pitch for the varsity as a freshman.”
Enter Bill Fulginite, then the coach at Marian High.
The small Catholic school in Framingham had no restrictions on freshmen playing varsity sports. O’Connor went to Marian. He refined his skills the first year and went 11-0 as a sophomore. After his senior season, when he finished 12-0 with a 0.30 earned run average, he was named the Globe’s Division 3 Player of the Year.
O’Connor had hoped to pitch for a Division 1 college. He looked into Florida, Miami, and a couple of schools in Texas. The summer after he graduated from Marian, he pitched for Framingham’s American Legion team. One night O’Connor beat a strong Milford team at Fino Field. He didn’t know that Saint Leo College coach Jack Gillis, a Worcester native, was in the stands.
As O’Connor recalls it now, Gillis “asked me after the game, ‘Do you want to come to Saint Leo?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ ”
A stocky righthander, O’Connor went on to a stellar collegiate career, and the now-university in St. Leo, Fla., this winter hired him to be the head coach of its Division 2 baseball program.
A starter his first two seasons in college, he transitioned to a closer’s role as a junior and senior. He appeared in 63 games for Saint Leo, second all-time in program history, before graduating in 1983.
“I had a sinker ball and slider. I got a lot of ground balls and got batters to hit into double plays,” said O’Connor, who was added to the college’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
His teammates included J.P. Ricciardi, later general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, and two eventual big-league pitchers, Bob Tewksbury (Concord, N.H.) and Newton native Jim Corsi, who pitched for the Red Sox.
O’Connor also had major-league dreams. However, he admits, “I wasn't good enough. That was hard for me to deal with. I was 5 feet 8. I wasn't throwing 95.”
Still, he knew he wanted the baseball life, and started recruiting high school players for Saint Leo during his junior year. He went on to scout for the Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, and San Francisco Giants.
With the Giants, he signed future National League MVP catcher Buster Posey out of Florida State. The school had recruited Posey as a pitcher and shortstop, according to O’Connor. “His sophomore year in the Cape League was his first season catching,’’ O’Connor said.
A scout’s life, with countless hours on the highways and back roads and nights in cheap motels, takes its toll. “It can be a lonely job,” said O’Connor. “You’re on your own, responsible just for yourself,” looking for the next can’t-miss kid.
O’Connor has come full cycle at Saint Leo. “It was always a great place to play,” he said. Now he’s the head man. His Lions (10-2), ranked 28th in the country, lost two of their first three games to Montevallo before ripping off nine straight.
“Sean’s very intense during games,” said Saint Leo assistant coach Lee Parks. “The players feed off that. He told the players he was going to use everyone on the team, and that they’d all have a chance to win a game. We’ve had four guys off the bench help us win games. We’ve got 15 seniors. Our job as coaches is to put them in a position to succeed. That’s something Sean’s done well.”
O’Connor stayed involved with alumni events at the school over the years.
“That’s made it an easy transition for Sean,” said Parks. “He’s always wanted to be a part of Saint Leo.”
O’Connor’s first coaching job was at Framingham State, where Ashland native Bob Sannicandro was the head coach. Sannicandro asked O’Connor to be the Rams’ pitching coach.
“I was 22, not much older than the players,” recalled O’Connor. “The next year we went to the ECAC tournament for the first time.”
After Sannicandro left, O’Connor took over and led the Rams for four years.
Sannicandro had been an assistant coach at Marian High under Fulginite, and became O’Connor's coach when Fulginite left to coach Cambridge Rindge & Latin.
“Even when I had Sean in high school you could see he’d be a coach some day,” said Sannicandro. “He was the leader of the team. A fierce competitor. When he coached with me at Framingham State, I liked the rapport he had with the pitchers. He got them to believe in themselves.”
O’Connor moved on to assistant jobs at Assumption, Bryant, Brown, and Providence. He was with the Friars the season before the administration dropped the baseball program.
“The last Providence game was when we lost to Florida State’' in the NCAA regionals, he said.
O’Connor plans on being at Saint Leo for a long time. “My heart is here,” he said. “This is a dream come true.”
But home will always be Framingham, where his former wife and their two children live.
“I still go to the Framingham-Natick Thanksgiving game every year,” said O’Connor,.
His playing days are over, but the scouting continues, only now it’s for his alma mater. “It’s ended up really good,” he beamed. Pretty much where it started.