Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Kevin Thomas email@example.com
BOSTON -- When Ryan Flaherty knocked over a cup of iced coffee in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, a teammate chided, "way to go, Flash."
PLAYING BALL: Ryan Flaherty is playing a role for the surprising Baltimore Orioles this season. The Deering High School graduate has played in 68 games at several positions and is often a defensive replacement for the Orioles, who lead the AL wildcard and are a game behind the Yankees in the AL East.
Just giving the rookie a hard time.
Flaherty, 26, a Deering High School graduate, is a major league rookie on an enjoyable ride.
When the Baltimore Orioles drafted Flaherty last December in the Rule V draft, his goal was to remain in the major leagues a whole season.
Now the objective is for more: A World Series ring. Flaherty finds himself on a team that is unexpectedly a contender, likely headed to the playoffs
"Being a rookie, you really couldn't ask for much more," Flaherty said Sunday afternoon before Baltimore's game against the Red Sox.
Flaherty, like any competitor, could ask to play more. He's played in 68 games, at several positions in the infield and outfield, getting only 129 at-bats. A major league regular gets between 400 to 600 at-bats.
He played in Saturday's game at Fenway, going 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs. Yet, 2 1/2 hours before Sunday's game, Flaherty was not sure if he was playing.
"Wait and see," Flaherty said. When the lineup was finally posted in the clubhouse, Flaherty checked and didn't see his name.
"It's one of those things, you got to be patient and wait for your time," Flaherty said. "When you get a chance, be ready to go and do what you can."
Flaherty would get his chance Sunday, in a pressure-cooker situation, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning, bases loaded and two outs, with the Orioles down 2-1. Flaherty struck out, looking at an outside 97 mph fastball.
The Orioles remained one game behind the New York Yankees in the American League East Division.
Getting a chance
Were it not for the Orioles, Flaherty would probably still be in the minor leagues, in the Chicago Cubs organization.
It was the Cubs who chose Flaherty in the first round of the 2008 draft, out of Vanderbilt University, where Flaherty shined for three years.
Flaherty played in the minors for the Cubs for four seasons. This past offseason, the Cubs had to make a decision about Flaherty -- either protect him on their 40-man roster, or risk losing him in the Rule V draft.
The Rule V draft is designed to give players a chance with another team, if they are not moving up with their original organization.
The only stipulation is that a team taking a player in the Rule V draft must keep him on its major league roster for a year.
So when the Orioles took Flaherty, they had to keep him on the roster. It did not seem much of a gamble since the Baltimore Orioles have not had a winning season since 1997. They finished 69-93 last year.
What would it matter if the Orioles kept Flaherty all year, since Baltimore was not expected to contend?
But the Orioles, under manager Buck Showalter, are winning. They have the playoffs on their mind. Everyone, even a rookie, is expected to contribute.
"For a guy who doesn't have a lot of time in the big leagues, he's a guy we've developed some trust in," Showalter said. "He's the type of guy you love to get in the Rule V draft because he can play multiple positions."
Flaherty is often used as a defensive substitute. He is batting a mild .225, but has improved every month. He batted .154 over April and May, then .242 (June) and .258 (July). In August, a bout with tonsillitis put him on the disabled list from Aug. 8-24.
When Flaherty came back, he started two straight games, getting a hit in each. But then he didn't start again for nearly a month, until Saturday.
'Sky's the limit'
Showalter said Flaherty's day is coming.
"He hasn't had the at-bats that he's going to have," Showalter said. "The sky's the limit with him.
"You can tell he comes from strong baseball teaching, whether it's his family or Vanderbilt, or both, probably."
Flaherty, whose father Ed Flaherty is head coach of the successful University of Southern Maine baseball team, said he sees similarities between Showalter and his dad.
"A coach who expects you to play the game hard and play the game the right way," Flaherty said.
Flaherty hopes to keep playing the game the right way, and in the major leagues, for years to come. He will play in a winter league this offseason to keep developing. And next March, Flaherty will have to compete for a job at the Orioles' spring training camp.
"We'll take care of that when it comes," Flaherty said.
Spring is not on Flaherty's mind. His thoughts are of this season only, a season that could extend to late October.