Baltimore Orioles

More from Pat Connaughton on his future with the Orioles, in the NBA

WASHINGTON — I caught up with former Orioles draft pick and current Portland Trail Blazers rookie Pat Connaughton before Portland's game against the Washington Wizards on Monday afternoon at Verizon Center.

Playing time has been scarce for Connaughton through the first three months of his rookie season  he played the final 1:37 on Monday  but he’s still confident he can make a career in basketball and baseball.

He's now playing in large arenas, but he still can see himself pitching in the South Atlantic League before far fewer fans.


Connaughton, the Orioles' fourth-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2014, hasn't pitched for the Orioles since logging 14 1/3 innings with Short-A Aberdeen the year he was drafted. He later returned to Notre Dame for his senior basketball season, which ended with a trip to the Elite Eight. He performed well in predraft camps and was selected in the second round by the Brooklyn Nets and immediately acquired by the Trail Blazers.

Connaughton signed a three-year deal  the first two years include guaranteed money  and as he attempts to establish himself in the NBA, he will have to focus on basketball. (When Connaughton signed his NBA deal, the Orioles were expected to attempt to recoup his $428,000 signing bonus, but they didn’t.) He said he likely will spend this summer playing the sport, but also hopes to spend future summers working his way up through the Orioles organization.

Something might have to give eventually. While both the Orioles and Trail Blazers have entertained Connaughton's two-sport dream, they can go only so far. Connaughton is realistic about his goals, and time will tell where his long-term future lies.


Here's a full transcript of what Connaughton had to say about being an NBA rookie, pitching for the Orioles, balancing the two sports and more:

On getting adjusted to life as a rookie in the NBA:
We’ve got a really good group of guys on the team that really help me being a rookie, and then as far as everything else goes, I think it’s a learning process. It’s good to learn from guys who have been around, guys who have played the position that I play, even though I may have not played that position in college because of what my team needed. I think it’s been good, it’s been fun. You can wake up every morning and get better at one of the sports you love. It’s a pretty fun profession, to say the least.

On how much basketball helps him with baseball:
I've always said that there's a major correlation in the fact that basketball has always really helped me physically for baseball. I'm in a lot better shape than a lot of baseball guys or a lot of baseball pitchers just because of the nature of the sport. I'm more athletic than a lot of them because of the nature of the sport, and it allows me to pick up on things from a mechanical standpoint. While you're pitching, pitching mechanics [are important], so it allows me to repeat things a lot easier than other players.

Once I get a few starts, a few bullpens under my belt, I'm already back in that mold and I already know what things to tweak and why I'm missing where I'm missing, stuff like that, which pro ball that one summer really helped me with. And the reverse side, the mental toughness you need in baseball puts you far ahead of a lot of the baseball guys.

A lot of guys rely on their physical attributes in basketball and don’t pay attention as much to the mental side. But being a pitcher in baseball  a sport where you’re built to fail seven out of 10 times  as a pitcher, you give up two or three runs, your team has a chance to lose, let alone win, it works with each other, in my sense. You talk about the mental strength for athletics, and you need physical strength. Well, both of them kind of help.

On his future with baseball:
There's two ways I always think about it. One way is whatever I'm doing that day, I focus on solely. I think it's a lot easier than I think people think, because I've lived it for 20 years … since I was 3, so I'm used to it. It's a lot easier than balancing school as a damn near third sport at Notre Dame, so it is almost a load off your chest, so the other way to think about [it] is … some guys, they enjoy playing golf. They enjoy taking naps. For me, pitching is that getaway.

It doesn't require as much physical stress except on my arm, and even if it is on my arm, you can't pitch every day or it would fall off. So it's something that I think I can balance really well, and since I've been doing it for so long, I can balance them really well.

On preparing for baseball:
I think I know if I needed to, I could pick up a ball and get ready pretty fast. That being said, you don't want to do anything until then. You don't want to lose the flexibility in your shoulder, things that are required. But it's been great because if you look at it from a basketball standpoint, major things to work on in basketball aren't getting jacked, like in football. You know what I mean? It's more about lean athleticism and leg strength, stuff like that. So it doesn't really inhibit that, and for the little things it might, you don't want to lift a ton of weight over your shoulder, stuff like that, the urban-legend, urban-myth stuff with pitchers.

I work with the strength guys, and they've been great with it. It's just like any job. We're either in the arena or working out during certain hours of the day, but you have other hours for things that you want to do during the day as a human being, and for me, maybe I don't go shopping. Maybe I go into my backyard and throw against a net. I never want to lose that ability I have, because think about all the kids who would kill to have that ability.

On whether he still throws during basketball season to keep his arm loose:
I didn’t do it as much last year when I was trying to achieve this dream. And now that you’re here, you put all of you effort into this, but you still have the down time. You have times when guys take naps. A lot of guys, this is physically demanding on their bodies, but I’ve been doing it my whole life, so to throw is actually a day off for me. I do it whenever. I don’t do it when we’re on the road, but when we’re on the road, I can do sleeper stretch, you can do strengthening with a heavy-weight ball, stuff like that.

On how often he thinks about a career in baseball:
It’s always on my mind. The way I look at it, one of my main mantras my whole life has been, until someone forces me, which I don’t think will happen, I never want to give up on one of them, because think about all the kids who want to be a pro in one of them, let alone two of them. In today’s day and age, where so many kids are taught to specialize so early, I want to show them you don’t have to  at a young age, high school age, college age and hopefully a professional age.

On juggling multiple sports:
I played football in high school, so sometimes I'll throw a football around. You're not putting as much velocity on it, so you're not putting as much stress on it, but you're still strengthening your arm. We'd used to go to the football field, and guys would want me to throw just to see how far I could throw it. …


In my mind, I will pitch in MLB, and I want to achieve that. That's a dream of mine. I don't know when it will be, but like you said, a lot of pitching is based on how many bullets are in your arm compared to your age. Obviously, there becomes an age when it kind of becomes unfeasible, but look at [former major league pitcher] Jamie Moyer. He married [former Notre Dame men's basketball coach] Digger Phelps' daughter. … Digger was always around, and I got close with Digger, and Jamie came in and talked to me about it. There are a lot of opportunities in baseball that you can achieve down the line as opposed to this sport, where it requires so much athleticism, you probably have to achieve things [in basketball] sooner than later.

On when he expects to pitch again:
The way I look at it and a lot of people look at me like I have three heads or four  obviously, this past summer, coming into the season and probably this summer, I’ll have to do some basketball things, summer league, things like that. Obviously, they don’t want me to do it all summer. …

But down the line, whether it's this year, whether its next year, whether it's my second potential contract in the NBA, or however it works out, that's how I've always looked at it. As crazy as it sounds, as you get older in this league, you have the summers to do what you please. They want you to obviously work out, but being a professional, they believe you're mature enough to achieve that on your own.

On how he believes his basketball career will help him with baseball:
As a pitcher, especially a starting pitcher, you pitch once every five days, and there's no reason they wouldn't want me to stay in shape. And in baseball, you're doing a lot of things you need for basketball. So the way I look at it, there's potential.  It's wild. It's not something many people believe.

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I don't know about this summer, but definitely summers down the line. I'm close with many people in the Orioles organization.  I'm close with [Orioles trainer] Chris Correnti, who worked with Pedro Martinez, who was my favorite pitcher of all time. So there's a lot of things that I think are achievable. You've just got to be good enough to make people want to work with you.

On whether he believes he will pitch for the Orioles in the majors:
You never know. I have not put much mileage on my arm. I have a lot of strength left in it, and my athleticism allows me to pick up on things quick, and I’m confident enough that if I can achieve this basketball thing and people know with my work ethic, nothing will slip, why wouldn’t the Orioles want to take a chance and take a guy they drafted and see what happens in the minor leagues and one day get to the majors leagues?

On concentrating on one sport:
Look, I've never put my mind toward one sport in my entire life, but recently, I have in segments. There was the summer I pitched in Aberdeen, and all I did was baseball. I got a lot better. My fastball got faster. My off-speed [pitches] got sharper. I only walked one or two guys, compared to my junior year in college, when I walked more guys than I struck out because I just didn't have the right amount of innings under my belt. I didn't know some mechanical things, so I had to use my athleticism.

Same thing with this. I've never focused on this full-time, and I have been able to this year, and I've gotten a lot better at it and I think I can have success with it. You put both of them together and do it as your job, which I've been doing and balancing school with it. … Then you have an opportunity to do things people really don't think are feasible and can only dream of.


On advice he’s received about being a two-sport athlete:
For me, the greatest advice I’ve gotten is that people are going to give you advice on both sides of it, but no one has ever done it, so you have to be mature enough and good enough with people to understand that you want to take their advice, but all of it might not apply to you. You want to be a good enough person that they’re rooting for your success, and even if their opinion is that you can’t do it, they still are going to root for you to do it, even if out front they can’t see it [happening]. It’s a mixture of everything. It’s a mixture of being a good person, a good athlete, hard work, all that sort of stuff. But it’s all worth it if you do it the right way.

On who has given him the best advice:
Probably my parents, because they know what I'm trying to do. That being said, there's been a lot of people like [agent] Sam Samardzija and [former Notre Dame two-sport star and current San Francisco Giants pitcher] Jeff Samardzija. ... Jeff took the baseball path. He could have had a great career in football, and he said, "Look, you're going to get to a point where no one will be able to give you the advice anymore. You're going to have to decide what you want to do on your own. That's both as a career choice and what's feasible and what's the dream and what realistically you think you can accomplish."

The way I look at it is, you never want to sell yourself short, so you never want to burn a bridge before you have the chance to cross it. I'd be doing myself a disservice, I'd be doing all the kids I've been telling don't do one sport a disservice if I said, "Oh, yeah, baseball is more feasible, it's got more money, it's got this." I'm a 6-5 pitcher, and my athleticism is plus-plus in baseball. It sounds ridiculous to say, but it would almost be the easier way out based off the way people perceive me as an athlete and what I can do because I've been told that my whole life.