WALLA WALLA — With a standing-room-only crowd on hand, one-time Big Nine Conference baseball Pitcher of the Year, 2003 Wa-Hi graduate and current Atlanta Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty received the Big Blue Booster Professional Athlete Alumni Award.
Big Blue Booster past-president Scott Krivoshein presented the award minutes before the Blue Devil boys tangled with Big Nine Conference Cascade Division rival Kamiakin.
After a standing ovation, O’Flaherty received a baseball jersey emblazoned with his Blue Devil No. 32.
In his brief remarks, O’Flaherty said he was honored to accept the award and be recognized among the great athletes that have worn the Blue Devil colors.
Before the ceremony, O’Flaherty stood beside a table in the lobby where he signed autographs.
The table bore photos of O’Flaherty in his Atlanta Braves’ Major League uniform.
"This honor is pretty cool," he said of the Boosters’ event. "There’s been a lot of good athletes coming through here. I feel pretty excited to be here. So, it’s an honor."
O’Flaherty, the son of Bill and Georgia O’Flaherty of Walla Walla, makes his home in Bellevue.
"I just arrived (Friday)," he said. "It’s a nice time at home. I visit two, three or four times a year during the offseason."
Being busy on major league diamonds from February until the fall, O’Flaherty has not had a chance to see Blue Devil baseball action since his graduation in 2003.
And surrounded by fans entering the gym, O’Flaherty chuckled when comparing the crowd to the thousands he sees in major league ball parks.
"It’s a little bit smaller," he said.
And it doesn’t generate as much tension for him, either, he added.
As a pitcher, even in the National League, O’Flaherty doesn’t bat often.
His answer was quick when asked if he got to bat once in a while.
"No," he said and chuckled.
"I had one at-bat last year," he explained with a smile. "I struck out. I don’t even think the guy knew that I was a pitcher.
"He threw me all sliders," O’Flaherty continued. "I could recognize it, but that doesn’t mean I could hit it."
O’Flaherty’s baseball season begins soon, and he’s anxious to get started.
"I’m looking forward to next year," he said. "I’m heading out next weekend. I’m shooting out to Atlanta to an early camp, and I’ll go to Orlando the week after that.
"My role (with the Braves) will probably be similar to last year," he continued. "I’ll come in to maybe get a lefty out or to take the seventh inning. It’s just going to depend on the situation, mainly.
"I’m definitely excited about it. I’m in a lot better shape this year than I was last year. I’m in a lot better condition as far as everything with the team goes."
O’Flaherty said he does "regular workouts to keep in shape" during the offseason.
"It’s the same stuff I do every offseason," he said. "A lot of running, a lot of weight training. I just started playing catch earlier this month. I’m long tossing now. I’ll probably throw my first bullpen February first or second."
In his senior season at Wa-Hi, O’Flaherty earned a 5-2 record with a 1.99 ERA and 83 strikeouts.
He was drafted in the sixth round by Seattle in 2003. He was called up from the minor leagues in 2006 and appeared in 43 games.
In 2007, O’Flaherty worked out of the Mariners’ bullpen in 56 games and earned a 7-1 record.
After the 2008 season, O’Flaherty moved on to Atlanta and appeared in 78 games out of the bullpen.
On Friday, O’Flaherty signed autographs before and after the awards ceremony.
And he took some opportunities to stand at courtside and watch the basketball game. O’Flaherty’s presentation came on a good night for Blue Devil hoops fans, as Wa-Hi eventually defeated Kamiakin, 77-75, in double overtime.