After nine years in professional baseball, all spent in the minor leagues while playing for two organizations, playing in 653 games for six different affiliates and a lost season at the Mariners’ alternative site because of COVID-19, Brian O’Keefe’s first two days in the big leagues — Friday and Saturday — couldn’t have been much better.
He got to celebrate the Mariners making the postseason for the first time since 2001 on Friday night and started at designated hitter in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the A’s. With his mother and father, his two brothers and fiancée in the stands, he lined a crisp single to left in his second at-bat for his first hit in the majors.
“It was special,” he said. “Obviously last night and then tonight, I don’t think you could script a better first few days in the big leagues. I’ve waited a long time for this and to do this in front of my family was extremely special, but to do it on a team that hasn’t made the postseason in 21 years and to be there for the night when we clinched and then today with the fans, the atmosphere, I mean, just absolutely incredible.”
After celebrating and more celebrating following Friday’s postseason-clinching victory, they still mustered up the energy to give O’Keefe the customary beer shower less than 24 hours after they were all in one big beer shower.
“We even did that today after all the beer that was consumed here last night,” manager Scott Servais said. “You’ve got to stay with tradition and our guys did it.”
O’Keefe had his minor-league contract selected from Class AAA Tacoma on Friday afternoon and was added to the Mariners’ active roster just before the Mariners’ biggest game in decades. With Cal Raleigh’s sore left thumb a nagging issue and Curt Casali on paternity leave after his wife went into labor on Thursday evening, the Mariners needed a third catcher to join Luis Torrens as insurance.
Selected in the 2019 Rule 5 minor-league draft from the Cardinals, O’Keefe got the call from Mariners director of player development Andy McKay on Thursday evening. He paced around his hotel room in Arizona for at least three or four minutes to process it.
“I didn’t really know what to say probably for the first time in my life,” O’Keefe said of the conversation with McKay. “I kind of said something like, ‘Thanks. Awesome, I can’t believe it.’ And then when I called my parents, the emotion just came out, I barely could get it out before I started crying and being able to tell them. It was really, really cool. I called my fiancee right after and when I told her I was in tears.”
O’Keefe was a member of the big-league team for less than 10 hours when he was celebrating the team’s first playoff appearance since 2001.
“Obviously, I knew what the circumstances were and that the magic number was one,” he said. “Coming in here yesterday, you could just feel it. It’s been a long time since Seattle has been back to the playoffs and to be a part of it was really special.”
When Raleigh was sent to down Triple-A early in the season after some struggles at the plate, he and O’Keefe were roommates in Salt Lake City. Five months later, O’Keefe was running on the field after Raleigh’s walkoff homer.
“From then to now I mean, I couldn’t be happier for him,” O’Keefe said. “He deserves it. He put in a ton of work. I think you’re seeing it on the field night in and night out. It was really special for him to hit that homer.”
Raleigh was happy for his friend.
“We spent all of the COVID year together, and then 2021 as well,” Raleigh said. “He’s one of my best friends. I’m so happy for him. He deserves it. He’s been grinding in the minor leagues for almost 10 years.”
Servais joked about the serendipitous nature of O’Keefe’s arrival. The former catcher and the minor-league catcher have frequent conversations during spring training. They love to spar back and forth about a number of topics.
“O’Keefe is in the starting lineup today, along with being in every picture last night,” Servais said. “That’s not bad for a guy who showed up in the big leagues for the first day. So hopefully you can do something to warrant being in on every picture.”
O’Keefe did that with his first MLB hit, which had his teammates all standing and applauding.
“This guy has got one of the best personalities, everybody loves him,” Servais said. “He’s as funny as it gets. He has been one of the targets of many of my spring training jokes, and interviews and things like that.”
O’Keefe loves it. It’s part of his personality as a kid born in New York and playing collegiately at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.
“I think that’s just part of the Northeast in me,” he said. “I like to really mess around and get on guys and have a good time, but that’s how I’ve been as long as I can remember. That’s just kind of my personality. But I want to make sure I’m doing it in the right way and going about my business the right way and making sure that I’m prepared and all those other things, but definitely keeping it loose and having a good time with the guys.”