Over the summer, senior Blaze O’Saben accepted a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The UMBC Retrievers are an NCAA Division I baseball program, competing in the America East Conference.
O’Saben, who verbally committed to UMBC on July 5, began playing 12 years ago, at the age of 5. He said he became intrigued with playing in college during middle school, when his older friends and teammates began to talk about it. Since arriving at FHS, O’Saben has been a member of the varsity baseball team for four years, starting at shortstop. He said he hopes to achieve his sole goal of earning first team 4A all-state honors this season.
Senior teammate Dustin Donner said O’Saben adds tremendous value to the team as a whole.
“[He’s] a great teammate, and can make a team better on and off the field,” Donner said. “Blaze’s work ethic is incredible; he’s always at the cages taking grounders.”
Along with the Falcons varsity baseball team, O’Saben is a member of the Stars showcase baseball team. The Stars are the No. 2 organization from Virginia that puts players into college.
Matt O’Saben, Blaze’s father and coach at FHS, said he has enjoyed watching Blaze grow as an athlete throughout his life.
“I’ve had the opportunity to coach him through most of his baseball playing days,” Matt O’Saben said. “It has been fun to watch him go from tee-ball to high school, to grow and develop, to see him work day-in and day-out.”
A week before Blaze O’Saben committed, he visited UMBC for the first time after the coach invited him for an official visit to see the campus and facilities. However, O’Saben said he already felt comfortable and ready to call it home.
“I liked the environment,” he said. “All the buildings are open, and there’s a lot [to do] everywhere. I felt like I had been there before, even though I hadn’t; it was just a really friendly atmosphere.”
The recruiting process was very fast-paced. Blaze O’Saben received significant interest from Radford University, also an NCAA Division I program, located in southwest Virginia. However, UMBC offered a scholarship quickly, playing part into why he committed.
“It was a little hectic,” he said. “A couple colleges notified me all at the same time, and [UMBC] just got to me first. I was talking to Radford longer than [UMBC], but [UMBC] got to me with a scholarship before Radford did, so I went.”
Matt O’Saben said the family was at a baseball tournament in Atlanta when Blaze made his final decision to commit to UMBC.
“We were in our hotel room and the UMBC coach called him,” Matt O’Saben said. “We could hear the excitement in both Blaze’s and the coach’s voice through the phone. It was fun seeing and hearing the excitement. We [couldn’t] be prouder of him.”
Blaze, who is planning to major in business, will receive a 37 percent athletic scholarship his freshman year, with a 51 percent scholarship guaranteed for the following three years.
An attractive component of the process for Blaze O’Saben was the success of the program. Along with their conference tournament champonship, the Retrievers finished 23-25 last season, in their final game, losing to Maryland in the NCAA Regionals.
“I liked their record—it has been pretty good recently,” he said “They’re in a rebuilding stage and they’re still successful and they’re getting all new facilities.”
Matt O’Saben said UMBC’s philosophy as a university and baseball program fits Blaze well.
“We like UMBC’s academic programs and the straightforward nature and approach of their coaching staff,” Matt O’Saben said. “UMBC plays with a chip on their shoulder. They bring guys in that love to play and are willing to outwork their opponents. That fits Blaze’s style, attitude and personality.”
~alex wright, sports director