As a kid growing up and playing baseball in Florida, Chris Okey was a catcher. He loved being involved in the game. He wanted to be in the action. He enjoyed working with pitchers. The so-called “tools of ignorance” were a blessing to him.
“I love the position,” said the Dayton Dragons catcher in Davenport last week. “I love being part of every play. It’s exciting to continue learning the game and picking everybody’s ear. It’s a position I want to stay at and play in the big leagues.”
By now, most of Redleg Nation knows who Chris Okey is. The Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the second round of this years draft. Along with first round pick Nick Senzel, Chris reported to Billings (Rookie League) initially and then both were promoted to Class A Dayton.
Like Senzel, Okey was a college guy. Okey was the catcher for Clemson for three years and his progression was remarkably similar to that of Senzel– not by leaps and bounds but a positive movement forward. Okey opted for Clemson after initially being drafted by San Diego after graduation from high school.
“I was really sure of going to Clemson,” said Okey. “At that time, Clemson was best for me as a player and as a person. Going to Clemson made me a better baseball player and it was a great choice that I made.”
Chris had tied to Clemson. His mother was a cheerleader there. His grandfather was a booster. It was the right fit for him.
“The ACC is known for football but is really solid in baseball too. There’s some very good teams, like Louisville, Boston College and Georgia Tech. Being exposed to that kind of competition was very helpful to me as a player. It will be the same here at Dayton. Getting used to a new routine, meeting the new players, getting to know the guys and the pitchers. It will be exciting to keep learning more and more.”
Chris knew he would go high in the draft after those three productive seasons for the Tigers. “Getting drafted by the Reds was a tremendous feeling on draft day. They have a great organization. I’m excited to be with Dayton and becoming the best player I can possibly be.”
Okey has fit in good with the Dragons. Through 19 games, he’s 18 for 67 (.269/.338/.597) with 6 home runs and 13 RBI’s. The two games I watched in Davenport, Chris was inconsistent at the plate. He’d have a bad at-bat (strikeout), then a great one (home run). Defensively, he looked pretty sound. “There’s times I like to be aggressive behind the plate, like if a runner takes a ridiculous lead. But I also want to play it smart and be aware of each situation.”
Okey’s roots are in Florida. He grew up a Braves fan and loved Chipper Jones. He also liked Javy Lopez, the Braves catcher. “The Braves had their spring training close to where I grew up so it was a natural thing.”
Chris was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist last year at Clemson, which is given to the best catcher in college baseball. “It was awesome being thrown in that category with the best college catchers in baseball,” said Okey. “I take pride in that. It was pretty cool to even be in the discussion and something I take pride in that.”
So how ironic was it that Chris Okey was selected by the team that had Johnny Bench as its catcher from 1967-1983? A catcher rightly considered as one of the best of all time?
“I’ve never met Johnny Bench,” said Okey, “but that would be pretty cool.”
Asked what he would like to say to the Reds fans who regularly visit this website, Chris Okey grinned. “Just that I’m a pretty easy going guy who’s looking forward to being the best player I can be. I’m excited to keep moving up and I look forward to wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform.”
In the brief twenty minutes I spent with Chris Okey, I can say this. He’s a pure catcher. He’s smart. He’s only going to get better.
And it will be a good day for him when he meets Johnny Bench.