The real story is a little more complicated.
At her work, Mrs. Odachowski shortened her name to Odach — with the ‘ch’ silent in Chicago’s Polish community — to make it easier to pronounce. As a tribute to their mother, who worked tirelessly so all of her sons could go to college, O’Day’s father and one of his uncles legally changed their names after they were married.
“And it came out O’Day,” the pitcher said. “So that’s why I am a fake; a fake Irish-Polish man.”
He honors his family history in a subtle way. Stitched on the side of his game glove is “D. Odachowski.”
That story sums up O’Day’s life. What you see isn’t necessarily what you get. There always seems to be a little more. Or a twist you weren’t expecting.
“Beer league” standout
Now 6-feet-4, 220 pounds, O’Day was always into sports, including hockey, basketball and cross country. He loved baseball the most and considered playing at a smaller college but instead chose Florida for academic reasons.
When he was cut from the Gators’ baseball team as a freshman, O’Day embraced regular college life. He played intramural softball and flag football and concentrated on his schoolwork, majoring in animal biology.
What it did is it set me up for a good academic career,” he said.
After his freshman year, a friend asked him to pitch in an over-18 adult league in Jacksonville. He agreed, and he had been messing around throwing sidearm while playing catch with his older brother on vacation, so he figured he’d try it in games, too.
“I came out and I still threw overhand, but I also threw sidearm. I wasn’t bent over like I am now,” O’Day said. “We had tryouts, but there were guys smoking heaters [cigarettes] in the dugout, having some cold pops during the games.”
His father, Ralph, attended many of those “beer league” games and was convinced that his son should give the Florida tryouts one more chance as a sidearmer.
“And I was like, ‘What do I have to lose?’” O’Day said. “I guess, you could be that guy that tries out every year and gets cut every year and be the butt of jokes.”
Because he had spent the previous year lifting weights, he was stronger and threw harder than he had from a conventional delivery. O’Day struck out every walk-on hitter he faced.
“I made the team and pitched four years and got a scholarship and all that stuff.”
As a fifth-year senior who could sign before the annual amateur draft, he drew interest from several clubs. Los Angeles Angels scout Tom Kotchman, the father of big league first baseman Casey Kotchman, was most interested after watching O’Day mow down batters at rival Florida State.
“He turned it up a notch I didn’t know he had. He hit 90, 91 [mph]. It was like, ‘Oh boy,’” said Kotchman, now with the Boston Red Sox. “Certain guys just rise to the occasion.”
The Angels offered O’Day $20,000 to sign — topping all other suitors. And they had another perk: Kotchman would be O’Day’s rookie-league manager and promised to make him his closer and move him quickly to the next level if he had early success.