O’Connell has been coaching baseball since he was 18 years old when he and his father began coaching his younger brother who was 10 years old at the time. After coaching his brother for five years, O’Connell then stepped aside until he started coaching his youngest son, Brock, at the age of 4 in Sparks Little League. Ten years later and now coaching his son’s Cal Ripken team, along with his son’s travelling team and a travelling softball team he recently started for his daughter, Mackenzie, O’Connell still loves every moment from the dugout.
“I love baseball,” O’Connell said. “There’s nothing boring about it. I started doing it for my kids because I always wanted my kids to get my coaching, for the most part. Now I do it just because I love it. It’s fun. I mean, if I would have thought about it years ago, maybe I would have taken a different career step, but I totally enjoy being around these kids. They’re just great kids. Good kids and good families.
“My favorite part is just the fact that I love seeing the kids grow and the progress. It’s awesome seeing where they start and seeing where they are today continuously growing throughout the years. I really enjoy just being around the kids and my kids and my family, and the families that I coach with.”
Most coaches get in to coaching after their own experience playing, but O’Connell took a different route.
“I didn’t play,” O’Connell said. “I unfortunately had to work through high school, so I never played. I played all the way up until I was 14 and then I didn’t play anymore just based on the fact that I had to work. So my own experience is just growing up through the guys that coached me, including my dad. I do a lot of studying and do a lot of reading on the internet to find new drills all the time, watching baseball games too.”
While O’Connell wants his team to become better baseball players, teaching them the basics of baseball is not his main focus.
“My hope is that they take discipline from it and the fact that they love playing baseball,” O’Connell said. “I hope that I help them with that. For me, that’s the biggest part. Just them learning discipline and enjoying what they’re doing and staying involved.
“I like to keep the kids active. I think the more they’re active, the less free time they have and therefore the less chance they have of getting in to trouble as they get older. For me, that’s the biggest thing. The joy on the kids’ faces too. They’re always smiling. They’re never unhappy and for me, I just like to see that continue as they get older and hopefully remember these days so maybe this will be something that they pass on to their kids. That’s my joy. There’s never been one day since I’ve been coaching these guys that I haven’t wanted to go practice or go to the fields with them.”
The desire to keep the kids out of trouble probably stems from O’Connell’s work with law enforcement. O’Connell has worked for the City of Sparks as a police officer for the past seven years and has been in the police force since 1995. Even with such a demanding job, O’Connell makes sure to set aside time for coaching, working the graveyard shift from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. so that his evenings are free. His players could care less either way.
“I don’t even think they would know any better,” O’Connell said. “They just see me as Damon.”
Instead of looking at O’Connell as a cop, his players look at him as a coach and take on his enthusiasm for the game.
“They love baseball,” O’Connell said. “To them, it’s their favorite sport to play. They can’t wait for baseball season to start. And now we’re playing baseball seven, eight months out of the year with our travelling team. They absolutely love it.”
However, the kids that O’Connell has coached aren’t the only ones that have taken something from their time on the diamond.
“From coaching, I take satisfaction just from being out there,” O’Connell said. “I’m out there and I think that I’m having more fun than they are. It’s just different coaching in Cal Ripken and then coaching the travelling team that I coach. It’s different because those kids I coach for the travelling, I get to keep every year. I’ve had pretty much the same group of boys for the last three years now.”
O’Connell emits the love and delight that he takes from coaching. Retelling the story of one of his favorite moments coaching, his enjoyment is clearly evident.
“Two years ago we were in the game to get to the championship game for my youngest son Brock and we were down 10 runs in the last inning,” O’Connell said. “We ended up coming back and winning that game and Brock ended up getting the game-winning hit in the bottom of the sixth and then we ended up winning the championship that year. It was crazy. It was amazing. All moments are exciting when it comes to your kids and they succeed, but that one probably tops a lot of them.”
A few years ago O’Connell took a larger role within the Cal Ripken league, becoming a member of the board for four years and president the past two years before stepping down this past season.
“I don’t even know the word to define that experience,” O’Connell said. “It was more than what I thought it was. It was great in the fact that we made a lot of improvements to the fields and to the league out there. The demanding part of it was the constant phone calls and e-mails that you receive. But overall a great experience because it taught me a lot on running an organization and putting everybody’s interests first, all the kids and the parents that come through. It was a very humbling experience.”
With his kids growing up, O’Connell’s coaching career may be coming to a close.
“I will stick with my youngest son until he gets in to high school. He’s 10 now, so we’ve got a few more years, so I don’t plan on stepping down. He has two more years of Cal Ripken left and then we’ll continue our travel team. So I guess when he is done with me, I guess I’ll be done. I can continue coaching my daughter though as well. She’s 13 and I could continue coaching her until she’s 18.
“With those two, I think they really truly enjoy having me out there. And that’s the only reason I started with my daughter was because she just was on me to start a team for her. She was playing for a different organization and she always wanted me to coach her for some reason. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s just exciting to see your kids grow and exciting that my kids personally want me to be out there with them.”