By Marty Farmer
As kids growing up in Oak Park, Jack and Keith Rogalla used to get in their share of fights while playing sports.
"We've always been competitive and neither of us likes to lose," said Jack, a former OPRF baseball player now pitching at Binghamton University. "It's fun having a brother of a similar age because we were always beating up on each other. There was tension at times, but it was all in good fun. We love each other and have a great relationship."
Keith, who has signed with Creighton, is enjoying his senior campaign as a pitcher/first baseman on the OPRF baseball team. He's a strong-armed right-hander whose fastball tops out at 92 miles per hour. Keith also possesses a lively bat as evidenced by his multiple RBIs during the Huskies' doubleheader split against Downers Grove North on Saturday.
Ask the brothers Rogalla about the other's baseball abilities and childhood spats are long forgotten in favor of a mutual admiration society between the ballfield lines.
"Jack is obviously a great pitcher, much better than I am, that's for sure," Keith said. "I hope to be like him one day. Jack knows how to pitch and he's proven that his whole college career."
While Jack has a nasty repertoire of pitches including an effective changeup, he's a bit envious of Keith's power arm.
"Keith's arm strength is something I wish I had," Jack said. "He's come a long way in just the past year in terms of becoming bigger and stronger. I think he's just scratching the surface of his potential. It's going to be fun to see what happens with him over the next four years."
Despite their physical gifts on the mound, neither Rogalla initially caught the attention of Division I college baseball programs. That oversight certainly baffled OPRF baseball coach Chris Ledbetter, particularly in the curious case of Jack.
"Every now and again you get a kid and just wonder what these college coaches are looking for," Ledbetter said. "Sometimes you see a kid who has a scholarship at a particular school and it's all because of how the kid looks. Then you get a kid like Jack who does nothing but go out and give you a great performance week in and week out. It was frustrating not finding a school who would take a chance on him.
"He finally got his chance [at Binghamton], and he's proving to everybody what he was doing all along. Jack is a pitcher who works the zone, works all of his pitches for strikes, and works his butt off to improve. He's having one of the best college careers of any kid I've coached at OPRF. I couldn't be happier for him."
In the estimation of Ledbetter, Keith is on a similar path to success provided he follows his older brother's sage example.
"Creighton is one of the top college baseball programs around so it will be challenging for Keith," Ledbetter said. "He's got good stuff. He's going to have to develop more consistency with his off-speed pitches. If Keith puts in the same type of work that Jack did to be successful, he'll get there."
This season, Jack is 3-5 with a 2.37 ERA in nine games started. He's holding opponents to a .208 batting average over 60.2 innings of work. In 2013, he went 5-5 with a 3.01 ERA (sixth best ERA in the America East).
"Baseball-wise, Binghamton has been an incredible experience," Jack said. "We won conference last year and I was able to pitch against North Carolina State [No. 7 in the country at the time] in a regional. I've received a great education, met a lot of great people and traveled around the country all because of baseball. It's been a fun ride."
This summer, Jack hopes his name is called during the Major League Baseball Draft (June 5-7).
"I've been in contact with about 10 Major League organizations," he said. "Hopefully I'll hear my name called in June, but if not, I can return to Binghamton for another year. Once my baseball career is over, I'd like to land a gig in commercial real estate."
Keith also has big plans for the future, specifically in Omaha, Neb., as a Creighton Bluejay. As with Jack, it's been an arduous journey at times en route to his ideal landing spot.
"I wasn't recruited at all until the end of last year at the Stevenson Showcase," Keith said. "I threw some good innings [at the showcase] and some good colleges started calling me. When I visited Creighton, I fell in love with the school and got a nice offer. It was the best fit for me academically and athletically."
Before Keith bolts for Omaha, however, he and his fellow Huskies have some work to do this season. OPRF is off to an uncharacteristically slow 6-7 start and Ledbetter was out following spinal fusion surgery in late February. With Ledbetter back on the bench (he returned April 16), Keith believes the Huskies are poised to make their annual run at conference and state titles.
"Having Coach Ledbetter back is huge for the morale of the team," he said. "We can do better, but I think we've been playing better baseball of late. Our goals always remain the same, which is to win conference and to win state."
Regardless of its record, the OPRF baseball program with its rich tradition will never identify with the role of underdog. For the Rogalla brothers, however, it's practically their coat of arms.
"I've always enjoyed the underdog role," Jack said. "The mentality is to always strive for greatness and never be satisfied."
Keith has also embraced the recruiting road less traveled.
"I was kind of a late bloomer," he said. "When I was younger, I was always one of the little guys. Now [at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds], I'm one of the bigger guys. I'm very thankful to OPRF and the Oak Park community for preparing me to go to college. Most of all, I'm thankful for having an older brother who paved the way for me and taught me how do things the right way."
The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete Feature, The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete of the Week and weekly sports calendar/scoreboard are sponsored by Midtown Athletic Club in Oak Park.
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