Freshman is a Hit

Both on the field and in the classroom, Florida State freshman outfielder Ruari O'Conner is proving that the learning curve just doesn't apply in his case. Thanks to his recent play, O'Conner has landed in coach Mike Martin's lineup with increasing regularity, a feat that's particularly impressive for a guy who thought he'd be starting his final high school season at this point up until just a few short months ago.

O'Connor - from the Chicago-area suburb of River Forest - graduated high school a semester early in December in order to join the Seminoles in time for this season. His arrival has been on the radar ever since he attended Martin's baseball camp two summers ago and was offered a scholarship on the spot.

"This is quite a change for me," O'Conner said after driving home five runs a 12-2 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. "I talked to some of my buddies back in high school today and their first game is Monday. They haven't even gotten outside [to practice] yet.

After losing Eddy Martinez-Esteve to the MLB draft last July, assistant coach Mike Martin, Jr. came up with the idea: Why not come a year early? He approached O'Conner, an excellent student, with the proposal.

"I was excited when he asked if I wanted to do this," O'Conner said. "I had to sit down with my family and we both decided that this would be the best move for me. I had to cram some classes in their right at the end. But I always wanted to come down here, so I guess the sooner the better."

O'Conner made the decision in early November. Missing fall camp may have contributed to a somewhat slow start but he has caught fire of late. His .524 slugging percentage heading into Tuesday's game at Jacksonville is second on the team for a player with at least 40 at-bats. O'Conner is also second on the team in homers.

"For a guy that leaves high school with no thought of leaving before the first of November, he has done great," Mike Martin, Sr. said. "Even though he had no fall practice, he has absorbed everything we have thrown at him. The kind of night he had (Saturday) I think is an excellent indicator that he has a very bright future at Florida State."

That bright future may be behind the plate. O'Conner, a catcher by trade, played seven positions for his AAU team but the prospect of serving as the emergency catcher this season behind Aaron Cheesman and Danny Diaz also factored into Martin asking him to suit up a season early.

While there hasn't been any talk of what will happen when Cheesman graduates, O'Conner says he's ready for any challenge that e is presented with. (Fellow outfielder Gibbs Chapman is also a senior and his departure could keep O'Conner in the outfield.)

"I struggled for awhile there but I'm starting to feel comfortable out there," said O'Conner. "The game will humble you in a second so I'm trying to keep an even keel and try not to get too high right now.

"There hasn't been a down part to this at all so far. The atmosphere is great from the classroom to the ballfield. This is incredible for me."

O'Conner's career accomplishments, as compiled by FSU Sports Info:

The #1 rated player in Illinois by PG/Baseball America and Midwest Prospects since June of 2002...rated 42nd at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June of 2004...projected as a third-10th round draft choice by Baseball America prior to signing with the Seminoles...earned all-conference honors as a sophomore...Chicago Tribune All-State catcher special mention in 2003...attended the Chicago White Sox Silver & Black Series/Combine in the summer of 2004...Area Code tryouts summer of 2004...Minnesota Twins Top Prospect Team (East Coast MLB Showcase) summer 2004...a three year varsity starter and two year three years at Oak Park-River Forest he collected 110 hits and posted a batting average of .425 with 14 HR, eight triples and 43 doubles in 259 at bats...after just three seasons, O'Connor finished third all-time for home runs in school history...slugged .814 with an on base percentage of .515...junior year he hit .377 with three home runs and 27 RBI while playing short...this past summer with the Indiana Yankees he hit .473 with three HR and struck out only four times in 55 at bats on top of playing seven positions for the a sophomore O'Connor batted .449, slugged 1.017 and was on base 56% of the time...hit eight homers, drove in 47 runs and struck out just once per every 10 at bats...J. Kyle Baird Leadership Award...starting QB on varsity football team as a sophomore...has a 3.5 GPA...father Pat is an FSU grad and his mother Irene attended FSU before eventually getting her degree from Harvard

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