GRAND LEDGE, Mich. (WLNS) – It’s no secret Grand Ledge is home to one of the best baseball programs in the state of Michigan. For 51 years, the Comets were led by Pat O’Keefe before he announced his retirement in Feb. 2020.
O’Keefe guided Grand Ledge to a pair of state titles, and at the time of his retirement, he left the game as the winningest coach in the state, with 1,315 wins.
“The thing that I miss the most is the teaching,” O’Keefe said. “They say it’s an extension of the classroom. It is the classroom, it’s just on grass.”
On Saturday, prior to the Comets game with Caledonia, O’Keefe was honored with his wife, Melody, his kids, and grandkids by his side. It was then announced that his No. 7 would forever be retired in Grand Ledge baseball history.
“That was a great surprise and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. So, it was something that I will always remember,” O’Keefe said.
This season, Grand Ledge has continued the success on the diamond despite O’Keefe not being in the dugout. Grant Householder and Mike Rademacher are co-head coaches this year and have led the Comets to a 28-2 overall record.
Rademacher graduated from Grand Ledge in 1973 and played for O’Keefe during his time as a Comet. In 1979, O’Keefe asked Rademacher if he’d like to help him coach – and the rest is history.
Rademacher said, “I think I always had a little bit of passion, being German and Irish you always have a little bit of passion and feel for the game, but we talked about the determination, and playing to your potential, and doing the little things that help you play to your potential. He was fierce about that.”
O’Keefe started his coaching career at Grand Ledge in 1968. After just one season, he left the program to play baseball in the Houston Astros minor league system. He then made his return to GL a year later.
“I’ve heard so many stories about him and they factored in when I played,” current Grand Ledge senior shortstop, Logan Todd said. “He coached a couple of my uncles too, so it was pretty cool to play alongside and with O’Keefe.”
The success O’Keefe had on the baseball diamond goes way beyond the dugout.
“He put a lot of effect into the younger kids program, Little League, Pony League,” Rademacher said. “Once he established the ‘Bullpen Club’ in 1977, that was also the first year of the spring trip to Florida, those guys won the state championship that year. It came to a head then, and from then on it’s been a reload situation.”
O’Keefe said, “My dad instilled this thought in my head, and he said ‘When you plant your roots, plant them deep,’ and so to be here, as I told the crowd, to go into that building for 51 years, between teaching and coaching, was the thrill for me every time I did it.”
The Dean Shippy Capital Diamond Classic was another place O’Keefe left a legacy. In the first 58 years of the annual tournament, Grand Ledge won it 28 times under O’Keefe.
“We haven’t had a loss under double digits in 20 years. We’ve won the conference so many times, and the Diamond Classic. We were talking the other day, they should just call it the O’Keefe Classic,” Todd said.