Bleeding Purple: Nuts catcher O’Dowd grew up a Rockie

bvanderbeek@modbee.comApril 26, 2014 

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All of the more than 200 players who have worn the Modesto Nuts jersey over the last 10 seasons have carried varied levels of devotion to the parent Colorado Rockies.

None of them had purple within their very essence until Chris O’Dowd arrived to play catcher.

Two weeks before O’Dowd’s ninth birthday, his father Dan O’Dowd became general manager of the Rockies – a position he still holds. So from roughly the moment Chris O’Dowd was strong enough to extend a mitt and hold a catcher’s crouch, he’s been a part of the Purple Family.

And family has its advantages. He’s been able to grow up in the game, with access to the game’s best players, always the kid with the best equipment. But with all of that now comes a huge burden.

Whenever he steps on the field, especially with a Colorado affiliate, he has no choice but to go it alone. Being the son of a general manager opens doors, but once the game starts it’s strictly up to O’Dowd, 23, to prove he’s capable of overcoming the extra scrutiny he’s bound to get from opposing teams and knowledgeable fans – anyone who might think his claim to the uniform is strictly hereditary.

“The nepotism also is going to be noise, but at the same time once you’re immersed in the clubhouse like I am you realize it really isn’t a factor,” O’Dowd said. “I have to play well to stay on the field. I have to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches, so if that were a factor it would turn negative on me pretty quickly.

“From an outsider’s perspective it may look like a difficult situation for me, but on a daily basis I have to put in my work to not make it an issue.”

The season so far has been difficult for the majority of the Nuts, who have set a record for most April losses in the Colorado (post-2004) era. Like so many of his teammates, O’Dowd’s bat has yet to heat up.

But as far as being able to stand the heat of playing in an organization run by his father, there are no worries. In fact, O’Dowd brought it on himself.

He had the chance coming out of high school to go right into professional baseball after being drafted by Oakland, but chose to attend Dartmouth University. It was not a difficult decision.

“Going into the college process I was looking for schools that were academically oriented against baseball-oriented, and Dartmouth popped up on my radar,” said O’Dowd, who holds degrees from the Ivy League school in economics and psychology. “I felt that was the decision that would be a life-long benefit, because baseball would end at some point.”

O’Dowd enjoyed stellar freshman and sophomore seasons. He was slowed by a shoulder injury his junior year, but still was drafted by San Diego in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft. The Padres moved him through three teams in the second half of that summer, and he finished with Lake Elsinore.

All the time, O’Dowd was looking around at the abundance of catching talent in the San Diego organization, assessing his chances against such top prospects as Austin Hedges and Rene Rivera.

And he did something unheard-of in minor league baseball, especially for a mid-round draftee with all of a half-season in the pros. He negotiated his own release from the Padres.

“Through a lot of communication with the Padres I found out where I was within the organization, and I thought it was best to hook on with a team that was going to give me an opportunity to earn a job,” O’Dowd said. “The window of opportunity for a baseball career is so short, so at this stage I thought it best to move on as quickly as I could and try to prove myself somewhere else.”

Of course, had O’Dowd been considered a prospect by San Diego, or had the Padres rewarded him with a hefty signing bonus, receiving a release would not have been an option.

“I initiated the conversation with the Padres and it was a long conversation,” O’Dowd said. “They were very understanding of what it meant to me as a person against being a business decision, which I’m thankful for. They didn’t have a lot invested in me.”

Here’s where the baseball skeptics will have a field day, and it will be the fodder for bench jockeys every place O’Dowd pulls on a uniform.

Had Dan O’Dowd been involved in any way in these discussions with the Padres prior to his son being granted his release, it would have been considered tampering. And the fact that the Rockies signed O’Dowd within days of his March 28, 2013 release from his Padres only adds fuel.

“This was solely on my own,” O’Dowd said. “I needed space from my dad in this decision, and he’s not there in the batter’s box with me every night. I’m out there fighting for myself and my team to win. It’s almost not a factor because the business side of things doesn’t affect anything I do on the field.”

As O’Dowd pointed out, there is no slack available in the clubhouse. If his Nuts’ teammates didn’t accept him for his skills and work ethic, you know he’d be hearing all about his Royal Purple relationship.

“He’s a workingman’s player,” said Nuts’ manager Don Sneddon. “Nothing flashy. He outworks people and his relationships with pitchers are all good. He’s always working to get to know and understand them.

“He’s not the biggest, strongest or fastest guy out there but he makes up for it with his knowledge and and being able to be good at everything he does. He may not hit a home run, but he can put down a bunt. He may not throw out the fastest runner, but he’ll block a ball and keep that runner from going to third.”

It’s all about earning the respect of his teammates, and on a team struggling one-though-nine and on the mound to start the season that could be a difficult task.

But if there is sniping, O’Dowd not only doesn’t hear it, he’s not going to lose sleep worrying about it. Right now, his only concerns him are the development of his team and of his own skills.

“The win-loss record doesn’t reflect how much we’ve grown or how we’ve competed, or the improvement in our pitching staff and defense,” O’Dowd said. “We’ve been up and down but there are a lot of good things going on here. The attitude will keep us going in a good direction and guys are coming in here every day prepared to play the game.”

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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