icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Maybe No June Swoon This Year in Charm City

Entry of May 27nd
People often ask me: Why am I such an Oriole fan? Well, as one of many New Yorkers who could never root for the Yankees with their fans' outrageous sense of entitlement, the Orioles began to attract my interest when they started to beat the Yankees regularly in the 1960s. When my first full-time teaching job was at Goucher College in Baltimore and later at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, I became hooked.

There is nothing like new blood on a team to inspire hope, especially in a long-suffering good baseball town like Baltimore. Before the start of the season I said without qualification that the Orioles could not come close to contending with their current rotation of starting pitchers. True to his promise that changes would soon be made, Orioles president Andy MacPhail is now bringing in almost daily promising young arms from the farm system. It could be that the Birds are at last becoming competitive again.

Last night Jason Berken, a 2005 6th round draft choice out of Clemson University, won in his major league debut, a 7-2 victory over the slumping Blue Jays who have fallen out of first place and have lost eight in a row. The numbers were unspectacular – 2 runs, 7 hits in 5 innings – but Berken’s mound presence and his willingness to throw inside and not be afraid of being hit were refreshing. He joins another rookie B boy, Brad Bergesen, in the rotation. And slowly the terrible memory fades of another B boy, Orioles minor league pitcher Steve Bechler, who died in 2003 spring training from an overdose of the weight-reducing pill ephedra. The Orioles must face Blue Jays ace Roy Halliday in a day game today but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Branch Rickey 101.

MacPhail also announced last night that Matt Wieters, the much-ballyhooed catcher of the future, will make his major league debut Friday night in a home game against the Detroit Tigers. A can’t-miss tag has been affixed on the switch-hitting former Georgia Tech star (who has followed in the footsteps of the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira and other Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech standouts like Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek).

As an Oriole fan I hope the prediction of future stardom for Wieters is right but “can’t-misses” can miss. I think of Ben McDonald who was the number one draft pick in the nation in 1989, a legend from Louisiana State University who “rassled” alligators and could hold seven baseballs in one hand but never truly achieved stardom. It takes time to emerge in The Show and as Branch Rickey said many times humble knowledge of that fundamental truth is essential.

Take the example of southpaw David Price, Tampa Bay's 2007’s number one pick in the nation, who made a less than impressive 2009 debut Tuesday night, throwing 100 pitches in less than four innings in the Rays’ shocking 11-10 loss to the Indians (they blew a ten-run lead). Price will get many more chances to prove his press clippings right but what is great about baseball is that you never know that you’re a major leaguer and truly belong until you succeed consistently. And success comes from the will to win and what Branch Rickey called “masterful technique.”

**It is too bad that Paul O’Neill doesn’t appear more often as a commentator on Yankee games for their YES TV network. He has a refreshing and often whimsical take on the game. During the Yankees’ recent home stand he talked about a dream that he was pitching to Babe Ruth in a warehouse. It took him until noon of the next day to realize it was just a dream, he said, because he was so excited by the thought that he and BABE RUTH were hanging out and he was pitching to him!

**Credit Doug Melvin, general manager of the contending Milwaukee Brewers, with another keen observation. When told that over 60 per cent of the division leaders on Memorial Day ultimately made the playoffs, he said that he would be more impressed if the number were over 80 per cent. A few years ago Melvin, a former minor league pitcher and Texas Rangers’ general manager, issued another memorable statement, challenging his player development people “to take a 20th round draft pick and make him into a major leaguer.” I can picture Branch Rickey beaming at Doug Melvin’s exhortation.

Be the first to comment