Like a family gathering, Lewisville baseball coach Billy Keels started off Obbie Sarduy’s college signing ceremony Thursday with a little story.
Sarduy, who penned his name to a national letter of intent to play baseball at Francis Marion University, wanted to try out for Keels’ program as an eighth grader, but ran afoul of state rules because he had already moved to Sullivan Middle School, and back, early in that school year. The South Carolina High School League deemed Sarduy ineligible for the season and Keels, who had only met the Florida native and fluent Spanish speaker during the previous three days of tryouts, had to tell the 13 year old his season would never start.
Keels did. Sarduy responded, “Can I still practice?”
After confirming with his athletic director that Sarduy could practice with the Lewisville JV squad, Keels allowed it. Sarduy practiced the entire season even though he couldn’t play in a single game.
“I like playing baseball,” he said. “Even practicing; it’s fun for me.”
It was a great anecdote from a coach who knew right then he had a ballplayer in his program. The coach’s affinity for Sarduy continued to grow, and through the years, many in the Lewisville community have embraced the son of Cuban- and Colombian-born parents. The Lewisville squad, in the midst of an excellent season that’s seen them rise to No. 3 in the Class-A state rankings, was there Thursday to support Osvaldo, who everybody calls “Obbie.”
“I’m gonna miss them a lot,” said Sarduy, who was red-eyed and emotional for much of the hourlong event. “They took me in. We’re a family. You tear us apart and it’s hard.”
Sarduy took a visit to Francis Marion with his mother, Martha Navas, and Keels on April 10. Sarduy had interest from Limestone and a solid offer from two-year school USC-Sumter, but opted for the security of a four-year school in Francis Marion.
“It was a dream to play college ball,” he said. “Now that it’s happened, I’m just real happy.”
Francis Marion, coached by Art Inabinet, who starred at Winthrop in the late 1980s, is getting a middle infielder that can flash the leather. Keels specifically lauded Sarduy’s ability to field and throw on the run, a crucial ability for a college infielder. He can hit too; Sarduy is batting a team-high .441 this season with five doubles, a triple and a home run. He also found out this week that he made the All-Region 3-A team for the third year running, only the fifth player to do so in Keels’ 13 years as Lewisville’s head coach.
Baseball is part of Sarduy’s Cuban blood. His father Osvaldo Sr., who runs a pharmacy in Florida, calls him often to talk about games, so it’s only right that Sarduy will not only play baseball in college, but will also study to become a pharmacist. He has a 3.6 grade point average and consistently receives A’s and B’s in his classes.
After Keels gave his speech to open the ceremony, Sarduy stepped to the podium. When he started talking about his teammates – his baseball family – he teared up. Not a common sight from a male teenager.
“Most people would be too cool to cry in front of their peers,” said Keels as he munched Chex mix. “I think Obbie’s like his coach, he’ll cry at the drop of a hat.”
Returning to his speech, Sarduy wiped his eyes with his left arm, then said, “Today my dreams come true.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032 Twitter: @BretJust1T