After long process, NCAA rules catcher O’Brien eligible for 2012 season

After a long wait, Peter O’Brien is finally a Hurricane.

The NCAA informed the former Bethune-Cookman standout that he has been ruled eligible to play baseball for the University of Miami this season, and now the Hurricanes have a legitimate offensive force back at the catcher position.

“It felt like a ton of weight had been lifted off my shoulders,“ said O’Brien, whose journey back to his hometown of Miami was anything but simple.

After being drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft, O’Brien decided to forgo the professional ranks and return to college for his senior season. Players are allowed to enter the draft a maximum of three times before committing to an organization.

For personal reasons that O’Brien did not want to delve into, however, his senior year could not have taken place while playing for the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman. He sought a transfer to Miami and pleasantly surprised head coach Jim Morris gladly accepted the veteran backstop’s request.

“They say it’s always better to be lucky than good, and this is lucky for us,” Morris said at O’Brien’s introductory press conference in the BankUnited Center. “It wasn’t something that was designed. Actually, we didn’t recruit Peter out of [G. Holmes Braddock] High School. We were very fortunate to get him to come here.”

Still, the hard part wasn’t getting O’Brien enrolled at UM. The real battle involved getting the NCAA to approve a special waiver request that would allow him to avoid missing the customary year off that is required of a transfer athlete.

O’Brien came very close to sitting out the upcoming Canes baseball season.

“I turned in my paper work probably in August, maybe early September … around November we got a call saying that I got denied,” O’Brien said. “After that we went for an appeal and we actually set up to have a conference call and to talk to the NCAA committee.”

That conference call took place this past Tuesday, and O’Brien evidently made a good impression. At 11 a.m. on Thursday, O’Brien received a call from Dan Raben of the University of Miami Compliance Department, informing him that the NCAA had cleared him to play for the Canes in 2012.

“I was speechless at the moment of the call,” O’Brien said. “It still hasn’t really hit me yet.”

From a baseball perspective, O’Brien gives the Hurricanes an experienced catcher with an above average bat. Miami saw a big drop-off in offensive production at the catcher position last season after losing Yasmani Grandal to the pros.

“We go from basically an inexperienced catcher to a senior that might be the best in the country,” Morris said.

O’Brien played in 168 games for Bethune-Cookman and finished with a .336 batting average while slugging 38 homeruns and 154 RBIs.

The Hurricanes open the 2012 season at home in a three-game series against Rutgers. Opening night is Feb. 17.