Once Devin O’Neill first took to the baseball diamond for T-Ball at age five, it was all over — he was in love.
“It just immediately felt like it was for me,” he says. “Hitting the ball, feeling it rolling in. I just really love the sport as a whole.”
The now 15-year-old has played every spring, and most fall seasons ever since, and now plays both outfield and pitches for his rec team at the Brunswick High School team.
“Pitcher was a position that I always wanted to play when I was young,” Devin says. “I enjoy getting to be involved in every play. It was one of two positions that you could do that, and I didn't really like catching that much.”
But in the spring of 2018, pitching almost through Devin out of the game.
“After pitching so much as a younger child, there was a separation at the bone,” Devin’s mother Susan says. “He had not been able to pitch much of that spring season because of his shoulder and it had kept him out of playing entirely for about a month.”
“That was very just boring and not enjoyable because I had to go and just watch,” Devin adds. “Just everything without being able to actually do anything and get involved.”
So, with rehabbing that shoulder in mind, and Susan hoping to get Devin involved in some other activities outside baseball, that September brought them to Players Fitness and Performance, in Frederick.
“It wasn't what I imagined a normal gym/workout place would be like,” Devin says. “It was a lot more friendly. But we worked on strengthening my arm and building my balance and coordination.”
And it was really that balance and coordination that were key to getting Devin pitching again without pain.
“High level pitching is all about mechanics and when Devin started at PFP he, for lack of better words, had the most opportunity to improve his mechanics,” PFP Coach Erik Roberts says. “He could barely do a squat without rounding his back entirely.”
For some young athletes, that could have been the end of the story, Roberts says; they wouldn’t move into advance strength training because of the risk for injury. But Devin illustrated right away that he was not only willing to work on getting the little details right but was hungry to unlearn bad habits and master the good.
“You never have to tell him to get to work — Devin will come up to you and ask, ‘what can I do next?’” Roberts says. “Devin is seeking out the coaching instead of having to be coached.”
The results of more than a year of persistent training like that? Devin is moving better and lifting his body weight or greater in complex exercises such as the deadlift.
“He is definitely one athlete in the gym that I think has made one of the most noticeable transformations from the time he walked in the door to where he is now,” Roberts says. “He really focused and did everything he needed to do and is reaping the benefits of that now.”
“I'm able to throw without pain,” Devin adds, “which was really helpful because it helps me stay on the baseball field.”
And not just stay on the baseball field, but excel, according to Roberts.
“His pitching has improved significantly,” he says of Devin. “And he knows when to dial in and when to slow down now. When to say, ‘Hey coach, can we take it a little easy today? I’m feeling a bit sore.’ A lot of athletes would let their ego get in the way and try to push through.”
That emotional maturity, that physical transformation, they’ve earned Devin more than just a spot in the pitching rotation. He’s now been named PFP’s Athlete of the Month for November. It was Roberts that announced the honor during a group session.
“I was really surprised when he said that I was going to be November's Athlete of the Month,” Devin says. “I was having some trouble by comprehending it at first because I just had no idea — I was surprised and happy.”
And ultimately, Devin’s commitment to PFP is driven by that simple fact that it makes him happy, Susan says.
“It’s hot and sweaty and a lot of work, but it’s something he looks forward to a couple of times a week,” she says. “Devin enjoys going because it is a fun atmosphere.”
Looking to the future, Devin plans to keep training, to get stronger, to injury-proof himself and make the varsity high school baseball team. He wouldn’t mind playing college baseball one day, but he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, or forget what he loves about his sport. “If I don't get there then I'll just continue to play in rec leagues and just have fun with the sport because that's the most important part,” he says.
And in the meantime, his aim is to work on himself so that when a coach or a teammate needs him, Devin is ready to step in.
“I’m taking lessons to heart and helping my own mental state so I can help anybody else that needs it,” he says.
That’s Devin O’Neill’s Why. What’s your why?