West Xtra: Blackhawk alumnus on White Sox roster

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL


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Even for a 28-year-old athlete, it's still a kid's game.

Brian Omogrosso, like most every other player -- regardless of the level -- still has fun playing baseball.

Two Thursdays ago, Omogrosso was having fun shagging balls with a Charlotte Knights teammate during batting practice in Pawtucket, R.I.

A little too much fun, perhaps? That was the worry Omogrosso had when he heard a coach yelling at him as he ran off the field.

"I thought I did something wrong," Omogrosso said.

He was worried he got in trouble ... just like a kid.

Not this time. Omogrosso, a Blackhawk High School graduate, wasn't in line for a scolding. Rather, he was about to be told a childhood dream had come true.

"He said I was heading to New York," Omogrosso happily relayed.

Yankee Stadium, to be specific. The Chicago White Sox were playing there that weekend, and the White Sox promoted Omogrosso from their Triple-A Charlotte affiliate.

After 61/2 years in the minors, Omogrosso was a major leaguer.

"That first game [I got in], I was literally shaking," Omogrosso said Sunday night during his seven-hour drive home to Beaver County for Major League Baseball's All-Star break. "The second [appearance], I went out there ready for the challenge and just had fun with it."

After multiple surgeries, a combined two-plus years of rehab on injuries to several different parts of his body, of course Omogrosso is enjoying his time in "The Show."

There were plenty of occasions when he thought he might cease pursuing his dream.

Omogrosso had Tommy John surgery performed on his right arm in 2004 after his sophomore year at Indiana State University. As is typical, recovery lasted approximately 18 months.

Then, a year and a half into his professional career -- Omogrosso was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by the White Sox -- a nasty blister developed on Omogrosso's finger. That put him on the disabled list for three months.

Soon after that, Omogrosso's shoulder required labrum surgery.

"In those spots, you're looking for the light at the end of the tunnel," Omogrosso said. "A lot of times I said to myself, 'What am I doing here?'"

Ultimately, Omogrosso's talent prevailed. After filling a variety of bullpen roles over the years during his climb through the minors, Omogrosso became the ninth rookie overall and the seventh rookie pitcher to play for the White Sox this season.

Omogrosso, 6 feet 4, 230 pounds, has appeared in two games for the first-place White Sox, including throwing 21/3 innings during Sunday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Omogrosso is filling the long-relief role.

"I'm real excited for Brian," said Bob Amalia, who coached Omogrosso at Blackhawk High Scjhool and with the Blackhawk American Legion team. "He obviously came through with us and was a tremendous pitcher and a great kid. He works very hard, and we just knew he had a shot [to someday reach the majors]. He has what a lot of people don't have -- not too many people can throw it 96, 97 miles per hour.

"He was a great pitcher and a great player, period, but what really stood out for me was he always wanted to throw the baseball. It didn't matter how many days rest, he wanted to go out and pitch. He's just a total winner. He was a great kid and he's a great guy."

Omogrosso was a three-year starter for Blackhawk, a standout both on the mound and at the plate (playing first base when he was not pitching).

Also a starter for the Cougars' football and basketball teams, Omogrosso was the starting pitcher for Blackhawk in the 2002 WPIAL Class AAA championship game against Mt. Lebanon (back then there were only three enrollment classifications).

The Cougars lost the game, 2-0, but Omogrosso did not allow an earned run and had 14 strikeouts.

"The thing with Brian, the bigger the game, the better he always did," Amalia said. "I've had a few kids like that, but with him you knew the bigger the stage, the better he always did."

Blackhawk advanced to the PIAA semifinals that season. Led by Omogrosso, Blackhawk's American Legion teams from that era were equally successful. The team advanced to the state finals twice and went as far as the state semifinals three consecutive years.

Amalia proudly recited Omogrosso's statistics for the Legion team that finished 33-2 after Omogrosso's senior year of high school: .417 batting average, 10 doubles, 11 home runs, 44 RBIs, .525 on-base percentage, 10-1 pitching record, 1.73 ERA, 111 strikeouts in 771/3 innings.

Amalia said Omogrosso is the first player from the storied Blackhawk program to make the major leagues.

"Brian is very humble; I guarantee even this won't change him," Amalia said. "He's going to be the same kid, no matter what."

Just like the adult playing the kid's game at the highest level that he is.

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