June 19, 2018 10:34:25 AM
Thomas Berkery jumped at the opportunity to work with Roy Oswalt.
Berkery had been away from catching for a few years when Oswalt, a longtime pitcher with Major League Baseball's Houston Astros, called him and asked him if he would catch him in his bullpen sessions. Oswalt, who was traded from Houston to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, was trying to sharpen his skills in an effort to get back into the majors with the Texas Rangers.
Berkery took advantage of the chance and "picked" Oswalt's brain to learn as much as he could about pitching.
Berkery remembered that relationship when he took over last month as Starkville Academy's baseball coach. He said he asked Oswalt about a month ago if he would be interested in joining him as a coach at the school. A few weeks later, Berkery checked back with Oswalt to make sure he was still on board and he received to go-ahead to make it happen.
"These guys don't know what they're getting," Berkery said about the wealth of information Oswalt will bring to the coaching staff. "I am excited to get him out there come spring time."
Oswalt finished his career with a 163-102 record and a 3.36 earned run average. He also finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting five times. His last game in the majors was Sept. 29, 2013.
Oswalt, who was an All-Star in 2005-2007, finished his career with 1,852 strikeouts and 520 walks in 2,245 1/3 innings.
Oswalt was the NL wins leader in 2004, the 2005 NLCS MVP, and the NL ERA Leader in 2006 (2.98). Oswalt was 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS.
Berkery said Oswalt will participate in "80-85 percent" of everything the Starkville Academy baseball team does. He said the Astros still ask Oswalt to do things, like special occasions and events, that might take him away from Starkville.
Oswalt, who wasn't available at press time, was born Aug. 29, 1977, in Kosciusko. He was 23 years old when he broke into Major League Baseball on May 6, 2001, with the Houston Astros. The Weir High School product, who played at Holmes Community College in Goodman, played 13 seasons in the majors with the Astros, Phillies, Rangers, and the Colorado Rockies.
Berkery feels the things he and Oswalt learned in playing professional baseball will help make things easier for their players if they are willing to listen and to work hard.
"Guys like multi-year big leaguers and coaches taught us," Berkery said. "What Roy is sending down the line, in all reality, might be something Nolan Ryan showed him. That is just unbelievable. Most guys know who Nolan Ryan is, but so many guys when they get to a higher level are touched by the experiences of others, so they don't have to go through the hard times and the ups and the downs. They just have to listen. I hope we can help our guys shorten the curve. We're going to be able to give them information that they hopefully will run with and start to see the results they're looking for."
Prior to making it to the big leagues, Oswalt nearly wound up at Mississippi State. Spotted by only one major league scout, James Farrar of the Astros, Houston didn't pick Oswalt until the 23rd round of the 1996 draft. Oswalt had attracted interest from MSU, but Houston included a $500,000 signing bonus and Oswalt signed with the club on May 18, 1997.
Oswalt, who was 5-foot-10, 150 pounds coming out of high school, broke into the majors with eight-straight double-digit win seasons. He was 14-3 with a 2.73 earned run average and three complete games in 2001, his first season with the Astros. He struck out 144 in 141 2/3 innings.
Oswalt went 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA in his second year. He went 20-10 and 20-12 with the Astros in 2004 and 2005.
Berkery said he and Oswalt have encountered their share of highs and lows in professional baseball that will help them as coaches. He said Oswalt worked uphill throughout his career to overcome people who doubted a junior college pitcher and someone who stood only 6 feet tall. Berkery believes Oswalt will be able to pass on the lessons he learned overcoming those obstacles to the players at Starkville Academy.
"He has been great with a lot of things around town in front and behind the scenes," Berkery said. "He is going to be a huge asset to all of the diamond sports in Starkville."
In 2004, Oswalt won the Darryl Kile Award, which is given annually to the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros player who best exemplifies Kile's traits of "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father, and a humble man." The award honors the memory of the former MLB pitcher.
In 2005, the Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros in four games to win the World Series. Oswalt started Game 3 and earned a no decision in a 7-5 loss in 14 innings. He allowed eight hits and five runs in six innings. He walked five and struck out three.
The Philadelphia Phillies acquired Oswalt in a trade in 2010. Oswalt responded and went 7-1 with a 1.74 in 13 games. He appeared in four games in the 2010 playoffs. He earned a no decision in the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds and 1-1 in three games against the San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship Series.
Oswalt was a member of Team USA that won a gold medal in baseball at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Oswalt will appear on the 2019 ballot for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Berkery, who also will coach Starkville Academy's fast-pitch softball team, has been a fixture in the area's youth sports scene for years. In 2010, he opened The Swing to sponsor multiple travel ball teams for baseball and softball. He took a job as an account manager with Pepsi in 2012 before working with the Columbus-Lowndes Visitor's Bureau as sports tourism director.
Berkery, who is from Sarasota, Florida, had two scholarship offers out of high school before he decided to sign with MSU. He redshirted his first year on campus and hit .260 as a freshman. In 2006, he won the regular-season batting title by hitting .393. He concluded his career in the NCAA tournament's Clemson Regional and hit a Southeastern Conference-best .383. He earned second-team Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger All-America honors and was a first-team All-SEC selection. Berkery also won the 2006 Ferriss Trophy as the top college baseball player in the state of Mississippi.
Berkery signed with Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers. He played three years in the Rangers' organization before retiring.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.