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Duty Now for the Future

Getting a Look at the Boys of the Summer After Next

Jefferson Jackson Steele
A national baseball publication ranks infielder Keith Reed the top prospect in the Orioles system. "I could be knocking on the door by the end of next year," says Reed, now with Single-A Frederick.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Keys coach (and ex-Oriole) Jack Voigt goes over strategy with designated hitter Wes Rachels.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Bowie first basemen Franky Figueroa shows young Baysox fans how to apply pine tar to a bat.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Keys players go through their pre-game wind sprints.Keys players go through their pre-game wind sprints.
Jefferson Jackson Steele
The City Paper Digi-Camô
Jefferson Jackson Steele

By Tom Scocca | Posted 5/30/2001

Keith Reed is on his way. It's the top of the second inning at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, the hometown Keys hosting the Winston-Salem Warthogs in a May 14 Class A Carolina League game. The Keys lead, 1-0, but they just left the bases loaded, and now the Warthogs are trying to start something in return. Winston-Salem left fielder Spencer Oborn, leading off the inning, has just swung and connected awkwardly, lifting a funny-looking flare over the middle of the infield. The Keys infielders, blanching, are sprinting back, uselessly; the ball drifts out of reach, dropping toward the land of cheap hits.

But in from center field comes Reed, No. 34, racing, closing fast. It's Reed now, or nobody. He stretches and dives, and ball, glove, and man meet in a tumbling blur. He rolls on the grass, toward left field--and even as he rolls, he thrusts up his glove, clamped shut, for the umpires' inspection: Here it is. Here. Got it.

Keith Reed is 22 years old, rangy, and smoothly graceful. His home whites, which look like Orioles whites except the chest says keys, hang on him loosely, as if they're waiting for him to fill out. Before this season, the magazine Baseball America declared him the No. 1 prospect in the Orioles' whole minor-league system. "I don't really think about it too much," he says. "Granted, it's like an honor and everything."

The honor has its limits: At the same time it anointed Reed the best player in the O's farm system, Baseball America declared that among the 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the O's farm system ranked 27th.

The men who acquire and train young players for the Orioles will tell you, in tones ranging from peevish to sorrowful to contemptuous, that Baseball America does not know what it's talking about. The lower branches of the organization, they say, hang heavy with budding talent. And the Orioles understand what to do with it. They have charts, game reports, binders full of information from Bluefield, W. Va., and Cabudare, Venezuela. They speak of organizational will, discipline, and generous funding, all focused on the art of player development.

That's the insiders' argument. Blunt outside observation tends to support the Baseball America view of things: The Baltimore Orioles have not been in the business of developing baseball players, in any useful sense, for nearly two decades. Among position players, the farm system's last unqualified triumph remains Cal Ripken Jr., Rookie of the Year in 1982. Since then, the O's farm teams have supplied their parent club with a smattering of role players (Pete Stanicek), short-timers (Leo Gomez), and false hopes (Curtis Goodwin). Throughout those years, the meat of the roster has come from other franchises, through trades and free agency.

During their three-years-and-counting string of fourth-place finishes, the Orioles have been treated as a sort of object lesson in baseball morality. They neglected old-fashioned team-building in favor of quick fixes and expensive mercenary stars, and now they're getting their comeuppance. Like most good moral stories, this fuzzes a few details--the team was just as quick-fixed and mercenary when it was winning the American League East wire-to-wire in '97 as when it collapsed in '98--but the central point is sound. Without a strong farm system, there's no way to make up for bad hires or injuries. Things turn ruinous overnight. You wake up one April to find Will Clark at first base and Doug Linton in the starting rotation.

For its part, the Orioles' player-development department does not enjoy being treated as an object lesson. "When people talk about [our] not having a plan, I get a little pissed off," Syd Thrift, vice president of baseball operations, says in his Warehouse office. The walls to his left and right are covered with tiny movable placards, listing every player on every roster in the majors--American League on the south wall, National on the north. The window behind him looks out on the Oriole Park field. He gestures over his shoulder at the view. "What's really important is not what you see here"--on the Oriole Park field, right now. It's the work behind the scenes to make the future product better.

This is, to the Orioles brass, the essential point. Everybody knows the major-league team has been a mess lately. But who knows what that means about the minors? The easiest and most tempting baseball forecast, year after year, is for more of the same: The Yankees won it all, so the Yankees will win it all again. The Orioles haven't produced many new players, so the Orioles won't produce many new players. The Minnesota Twins . . .

The Orioles would like to call your attention to the Minnesota Twins. The Twins, who lost 93 games last year, are battling the Cleveland Indians at the top of their division, and have a better record than the Yankees. Running on a penny-pinching, build-us-a-new-stadium-before-we-starve payroll through the mid- and late '90s, the Twins were consistently, reliably terrible--too young, hopelessly overmatched. Till now.

Your 2003 Baltimore Orioles

If all goes according to plan, the 2003 O's will bear only a passing resemblance to the current edition:

Starters: The strength of the 2003 squad will probably be its rotation, which might include anyone from a 35-year-old Scott Erickson, back from arm surgery, to fireballing 21-year-old lefty Richard Stahl. Potential ace righty Beau Hale will be 24, crafty Aussie righty John Stephens will be 22, and surgically rebuilt lefty hotshot Matt Riley will be 23. Incumbent righty workhorse Sidney Ponson will be 26. The list goes on.

Closer: Jorge Julio Preseason acquisition got lit up in brief Birds debut earlier this year, but with additional minor-league seasoning and maturity (he'll be 24 in 2003) the cannon-armed righty projects as the closer of the future, assuming current Oriole Ryan Kohlmeier's troubles continue.

C: Octavio Martinez Brooks Robinson Award winner (as the team's top minor leaguer last year) batted .330 in first two minor-league seasons and is currently calling pitches for a dominant Frederick staff. He'll be 23 in 2003.

1B: David Segui Veteran switch-hitter will be 37 and in third year of four-year contract. Tall, hard- hitting lefty Rick Elder, now with Single-A Delmarva and 23 in 2003, may see action.

2B: Jerry Hairston Jr. Defensive whiz and fan favorite will be 26 years old. "He'll be an All-Star," predicts Syd Thrift, the O's vice president of baseball operations.

SS: Ed Rogers "He's the smoothest shortstop I've seen, ever," Bowie manager Dave Machemer says. If Rogers, who will only be 21 on Opening Day 2003, isn't ready, look for a 25-year-old Brian Roberts to replace Mike Bordick.

3B: Jose Leon Cal Ripken Jr. will--presumably--be retired in 2003. Decent-hitting prospect Leon, 26 that year, is at the front of a line that also includes Napolean Calzado (who'll be 23) and a horde of young middle infielders blocked by Hairston and Rogers.

RF: Chris Richard Versatile hitter is shaping up as the prize of the O's July 2000 swap meet. He'll be 28.

CF: Luis Matos Standout defender will be 24, and more ready for major-league pitching than he was at age 21 last season (.225 average, 1 home run).

LF: Larry Bigbie Well-regarded prospect will be 25 and should be part of a deep mix of players challenging veterans for time in the outfield. Tim Raines Jr.--who "has all the tools in the world," Machemer raves--will be 23 and could end up in any outfield slot. Top-rated prospect Keith Reed will be 24, as will hard-hitting Raymond Cabrera.

DH: Jay Gibbons Lefty slugger, picked up from Toronto in Rule V draft this year, will be 26 in 2003 and is the most likely candidate to be crushing the ball by then. There's no reason why Calvin Pickering, who'll also be 26, shouldn't be murdering major-league pitching in '03--but since the O's don't seem to like him, he'll probably be doing it for some other team.

by Tom Scocca

Things change, things happen, even when you're not looking. Everyone knows the story: In 1985, Thrift became general manager of a last-place Pittsburgh Pirates team. He made a few trades, rounded up a few promising players, then called up a skinny leadoff hitter named Barry Bonds from the minors. In 1988, Thrift's last year with the Pirates, they won 85 games, and they went on to win three straight division titles, from 1990 to '92.

The pessimistic Orioles fan might counter that if Thrift wanted to fix the Orioles he had the chance from 1995 to '99, when he was director of player development--and when the team wasn't developing any players. But worrying about the subject is futile--Thrift is in charge of the whole operation now. The Birds have dumped half their veterans, and the other half are near the end of their actuarial baseball lives. Owner Peter Angelos has apparently sworn off his old ways; confronted this year with Jose Canseco and Vinny Castilla, the kind of old, available Proven Major Leaguers they used to snap up, the Orioles folded their hands and sat on their checkbook.

So the days of Bobby Bonilla, B.J. Surhoff, and Geronimo Berroa are over. The road to the future runs through Salisbury, Frederick, Bowie, and Rochester, N.Y. On it are new names: Keith Reed, Larry Bigbie, Beau Hale. Whether they're the 27th-best crop of prospects, the seventh best, or the finest in all of organized baseball, today's Orioles minor-leaguers are going to be playing at Camden Yards, and not long from now. "2003," Thrift says. "That's the year you're really going to see something."

"I never have believed in timetables," he amends, immediately.

This isn't the big leagues," Jack Voigt says. He is standing outside the Frederick Keys clubhouse on May 16, at the right-field end of the concourse at Harry Grove Stadium. A short bunt away is the Pepsi Fun Zone, which includes a carousel, an inflatable obstacle course, and an elaborate jungle gym sponsored by the Play 'N Learn Superstore.

Voigt knows what a player has to learn, to traverse that 50 miles of bad traffic from Frederick to Baltimore. He is himself a product of the Orioles' farm system, an all-purpose utility man who came up in the fallow years. In his rookie year, 1993, he homered off Randy Johnson and batted .296, and he ended up playing seven seasons in the majors.

He is back with the organization, a day before his 35th birthday, as the Keys' hitting coach. The job is a challenge, because the Keys have not been hitting. They are stone last in the Carolina League in batting, with a collective .235 average. So despite leading the league in pitching, the Keys are tied with Winston-Salem in the cellar.

But Voigt and manager Dave Cash are sanguine: The Keys are young, and baseball is not easy. Two nights ago, they broke through with 17 hits against Winston-Salem. They are learning, Voigt says, to plan their at-bats in advance rather than trying to react to each pitch as it comes. They are refining their hand paths and training their muscle memory. He mentions catcher Octavio Martinez, winner of last year's Brooks Robinson Award for the O's top minor-league player, who is batting below .200. Though the numbers make Martinez look overmatched, "right now, he's not," Voigt says. "The quality of his at-bats has gotten better and better."

With the Orioles' current starting catcher batting in the low .200s, a quality Single-A at-bat is not exactly a promise that better days are right around the corner. But you take what epiphanies you can get. With a few exceptions, even top-grade minor leaguers don't run around looking like Superman. "People should be able to watch the routine play," Cash says. "A good player will make it look easy."

Even with the way to the majors opening up before them, the Keys themselves know they aren't big leaguers yet. "I could be knocking on the door by the end of next year," Reed says. "I think I have the capability to play in the majors with more development."

About half an hour before game time, pitcher Richard Stahl is testing his stuff on the radar gun. Stahl was Baseball America's No. 2 Orioles prospect. He's a gawky 6-foot-7, with a narrow body and big elbows, and his left arm can fire a fastball in the upper 90s. At the moment, however, he's using his right arm. As he left his shift in the Comcast Autograph Booth--a raised deck in the Fun Zone--Stahl was distracted by the blow-up pitching cage. He slings the ball from starboard. "Lookit that!" he yells to his teammate and fellow lefty Tom Ford, in a thick Georgia accent. "Forty-six from the right side!" He tries again: 40. 44. Then another 46. Stahl heads happily into the clubhouse.

Leading off the bottom of the second inning tonight, with the Keys down 3-1, Octavio Martinez lines a single to center. The hit is followed by an error and a walk, loading the bases. With one out, third baseman Napolean Calzado singles in a run. A strikeout, another error, and the Keys go up 4-3. Reed finishes the rally with a hard double up the left-field line, into the corner, driving in two runs.

The Warthogs scratch out another run against Frederick pitcher Steve Bechler in the next inning, but Martinez, leading off the bottom of the inning again, doubles to left. Five-foot-9 designated hitter Wes Rachels and shortstop Mark Gibbs follow with consecutive singles. The Keys now lead 7-4, which feels, given their pitching, like it will probably hold up. This is an unusual realization, if you're used to watching the Orioles. Moreover, the Keys lead Winston-Salem in the hits column, 9-5. If the numbers in the stat packet are correct, the Keys now have one more hit than the Warthogs on the season, in fewer at-bats; they are not the worst-hitting team in the league.

Because Cash's uniformed staff consists of just Voigt and pitching coach Larry Jaster, the Keys assign an idle position player to the first-base coaching box. Tonight, it's outfielder Antonio Mack. In the bottom of the sixth, a tiny boy makes his way carefully down to the foot of the aisle, right by the end of the dugout. "Hey, Antonio Mack!" he hollers, raising a fist in the air. Mack turns and smiles.

Mack is in his first season above rookie-league ball, and he is batting .167. You can talk to a half-dozen experts about the Orioles' outfield prospects without hearing the name Antonio Mack come up once. The boy's name is Anthony Hogeback, and he has just turned 4, an age he conveys by holding up that many fingers. According to his mother, Anthony has been going to Keys games regularly for half his life. He said hi to Mack, he says, because he likes him. His favorite players, he says thoughtfully, are Mack, Reed, Jovanny Sosa, Mike Lopez-Cao, and Tim Raines Jr., the last two of whom have already been called to Bowie this season. "My favorite, favorite player," he declares, is Napolean Calzado.

As anyone who ever cheered for Chito Martinez or Pete Stanicek or Jack Voigt knows, this is the difference between Rotisserie baseball and real baseball. Players are not statistical abstractions, valued for their success; they're the guys who play for your team. You want them to succeed, even if somebody on some other team may be stronger or quicker or handier with the bat. They come up, they try, and you wish them well.

By game's end, the Warthogs have closed the gap in the hits column to 11-10, reclaiming next-to-last place in the batting race. But the Keys win easily, 11-5, their fifth victory in a row. Martinez goes 4-for-4; Reed and Calzado have two hits and two RBI apiece. "Get 'em to do it, get 'em to do it right, and get 'em out of here," Voigt says, pleased.

"I think," Cash says, "they're starting to believe in what we're telling 'em."

Everyone everywhere, it seems, is hoping the bats will come around. It's a cold, gray May 17 in Bowie, and the Baysox have gone two straight games without scoring a run. The crowd is spread sparsely around the stands, save for one white knot of Middies here from Annapolis, clustered toward the third-base side.

Prince George's Stadium is closely modeled after Harry Grove. It's a little larger, the seats are Oriole Park-green instead of blue like in Frederick, and the players are less likely to throw the ball into the dugout on a routine infield play. The Baysox have a stand-alone clubhouse, so they don't have to trek through the grandstand if they need to use the bathroom during the game. But the look is disorientingly similar: three-tiered advertising in the outfield, a "fun zone" with carousel up the right-field line. The Bowie fun zone has a bit of a nautical theme, with a ship-shaped jungle gym and a rather morbid inflatable slide in the shape of the sinking Titanic.

As anyone who ever cheered for Chito Martinez or Pete Stanicek or Jack Voigt knows, this is the difference between Rotisserie baseball and real baseball. Players are not statistical abstractions, valued for their success; they're the guys who play for your team. You want them to succeed, even if somebody on some other team may be stronger or quicker or handier with the bat. They come up, they try, and you wish them well.

By game's end, the Warthogs have closed the gap in the hits column to 11-10, reclaiming next-to-last place in the batting race. But the Keys win easily, 11-5, their fifth victory in a row. Martinez goes 4-for-4; Reed and Calzado have two hits and two RBI apiece. "Get 'em to do it, get 'em to do it right, and get 'em out of here," Voigt says, pleased.

"I think," Cash says, "they're starting to believe in what we're telling 'em."

Everyone everywhere, it seems, is hoping the bats will come around. It's a cold, gray May 17 in Bowie, and the Baysox have gone two straight games without scoring a run. The crowd is spread sparsely around the stands, save for one white knot of Middies here from Annapolis, clustered toward the third-base side.

Prince George's Stadium is closely modeled after Harry Grove. It's a little larger, the seats are Oriole Park-green instead of blue like in Frederick, and the players are less likely to throw the ball into the dugout on a routine infield play. The Baysox have a stand-alone clubhouse, so they don't have to trek through the grandstand if they need to use the bathroom during the game. But the look is disorientingly similar: three-tiered advertising in the outfield, a "fun zone" with carousel up the right-field line. The Bowie fun zone has a bit of a nautical theme, with a ship-shaped jungle gym and a rather morbid inflatable slide in the shape of the sinking Titanic.

Tonight's foe is the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The Thunder wear teal-accented uniforms. On the mound they have Mike Kusiewicz, a lefty; the Baysox counter with righty Beau Hale, last year's first-round draft pick, out of the University of Texas.

Trenton scratches out a run with a first-inning double followed by a single; Kusiewicz comes out and retires the first three Baysox in order. Hale answers with a three-up, three-down inning of his own, and Kusiewicz follows with the same. In the third, Hale looks even more assured, fanning the first two Trenton batters and getting the next to bounce out to first base.

At last, in the bottom of the third, the Baysox offense gets started. Second baseman Willie Harris bloops a single over the Thunder's shortstop. Desperate as the Baysox are to scratch out a run, it seems inevitable that he'll try to steal second; soon enough, he does, safely. Shortstop Ed Rogers, 19 years old and Baseball America's third-ranked O's prospect, strikes out, but catcher Tom McGee, the ninth-place hitter, pokes a single through the hole at shortstop. Third baseman Eddy Martinez walks on four pitches, loading the bases.

After 20 1/3 scoreless innings, it's time. Center fielder Tim Raines Jr., son of the majors' fifth-leading base-stealer of all time and batting .340 since his call-up from Frederick, stands in. Kusiewicz uncorks a wild pitch, bringing Harris home. 1-1. Raines walks, reloading the bases, and right fielder Larry Bigbie singles to right: The Baysox have the lead, 2-1.

Kusiewicz leaves after four innings, but Hale keeps going. The Thunder come back and tie the game at 2, the Baysox go up 4-2, the Thunder tie it again. In the sixth, Bowie edges ahead again with the help of a sacrifice bunt. Hale comes out for the seventh, gets the leadoff man to ground out, then fans the next two batters, finishing off the side with his most ferocious pitch of the night, a 99 mph fastball that's already thundering into McGee's mitt as the batter swings at its wake.

In the bottom of the inning, Bigbie doubles to center off Trenton's Rafael Betancourt, then steals third. After a strikeout and a hit batter, Brian Rust, who switched from the infield to the outfield when Darnell McDonald got called to Rochester the night before, singles Bigbie home. The Middies, who've adopted Rust for some reason, voice hearty approval. A wild pitch plates another run, and moves Rust to third.

With Ed Rogers up, manager Dave Machemer calls for a suicide squeeze, Rust breaking for home as Rogers squares to bunt. But Rogers botches it, launching a low pop-up toward first. Trenton has an easy double play if the first baseman catches it--but it drops. Rogers outruns the pitcher to first base. Everybody's safe. For insurance, Rogers steals second, then scores on a two-out single by Martinez. The Baysox go on to win, 10-5.

As with the Keys, there is nothing about the Baysox's showing that necessarily promises greatness. Hale put up a sturdy, B+ major-league line--seven innings, 10 hits, four runs, six strikeouts, no walks--against minor-league hitters. That last fastball made him look like a man facing boys, surely, but closer Jorge Julio looked even more overpowering with Bowie in April. Then Julio dropped in with the Orioles and racked up a 33.75 ERA in two brief outings.

The Bowie lineup showed pluck and resourcefulness: 11 hits, six walks, two hit batters, two steals, and two sacrifices. Of those 11 hits, though, 10 were singles. If the Baysox players were auditioning for the 1896 Orioles, you could order up the championship rings. What the 2001 Orioles need, this year and beyond, is a slugger, someone to fill the boggy hollow in the middle of the order. When Syd Thrift reassembled those Pirates, after all, the final piece of the puzzle was Barry Bonds.

So where's the Barry Bonds of the '03 O's? Baysox manager Machemer, who managed in the Milwaukee Brewers' system, recalls seeing Greg Vaughn and Gary Sheffield come through the minors. "I compare a lot of guys to those guys," he says. "Does this kid look like a Sheffield? Does this kid look like a Greg Vaughn?"

And? "Larry Bigbie," Machemer offers, after thinking it over. Earlier, he'd raved about Bigbie's smooth stroke--"You're not going to see a better swing anywhere in baseball, including the majors"--and his other gifts: "He's running better than I've ever seen him. He hustles every night. . . . Larry Bigbie busts his tail 100 percent every night."

But considering Bigbie now, next to the memory of Vaughn and Sheffield, Machemer pauses. "Is he going to be able to hit for power? Right now, it's a tough question. It might not be till the guy is 28, 30 years old." Bigbie will turn 30 in November of 2007. "He's got the daggone shoulders," Machemer says, enthusiastically. "With the lift he has, you just never know."

You just never know" is as good a theme as any for the Orioles' youth movement. The minor-league system exists, in part, because nobody knows anything. There are things a player can only learn by facing other, more experienced players. In the low minors, Keys lefty Brian Forystek says, a bit nostalgically, "a slider in the dirt is a guaranteed strikeout." By Single-A, he says, hitters will lay off breaking pitches out of the strike zone, and pitchers have to hit the zone with fastballs to make up for it.

By Double-A, they're putting their other pitches in the strike zone too. "Most of the pitchers here, they've got good off-speed stuff," the recently promoted Raines says. "You might get a slider, change-up, or something."

"Ain't no 'might' in it," Willie Harris cuts in.

So figuring out who will advance to the majors is, in most cases, a combination of occult guesswork and massive trial and error, closely observed. Nobody in baseball thought Mike Piazza was worth signing at all; the Dodgers, famously, signed him in the depths of the draft as a nepotistic favor to close family friend Tommy Lasorda. In high school, Cal Ripken Jr. was a good-looking right-handed pitcher. "Nomar Garciaparra was just a good-fielding shortstop," says Thrift's assistant, Ed Kenney, who came from the Red Sox organization. "We didn't know if he could hit."

And, Thrift says, the Pirates had no idea that Barry Bonds would hit 500 home runs. "Bonds hit .219 his first year, when he first played in the major leagues in 1986," Thrift says. "Power," he admonishes later, "is the last thing you ever see."

Till those assets bloom, the prospects can seem bafflingly interchangeable. Between Bowie and Rochester, the Orioles' future includes infielders Ed Rogers, Eddy Martinez, Brian Roberts, and Willie Harris. Or is it Eddy Harris, Ed Roberts, Brian Rogers, and Willie Martinez? Think fast: Eddy Martinez, a dazzling 17-year-old Dominican shortstop, startled the organization with his abilities in spring training in 1995. Ed Rogers, a dazzling 18-year-old Dominican shortstop, startled the organization with his abilities in late spring of 2000. Eddy Martinez switched from shortstop to third base to make room for Ed Rogers at Bowie. Brian Roberts switched from shortstop to second base to make room for Ed Rogers at Bowie. Willie Harris switched from second base to center field to make room for Brian Roberts at Bowie. Willie Harris switched from center field to second base when Brian Roberts got called up to play shortstop at Rochester.

One way to tell players (and their chances) apart is by consulting the Orioles media guide--or better yet, two media guides, from successive years. The books divide players into two sections: major-leaguers and certain prized minor-leaguers get a photo and a longish profile toward the front; the rest of the prospects get a shorter listing in the back. There is a certain Stalin-era fascination in flipping from last year's book to this year's and watching players go back and forth or vanish altogether. Eddy Martinez was in the front in 2000; now he's in the back. Ed Rogers was in the back; now he's in the front. Brian Roberts also moved to the front, while star-crossed slugger Calvin Pickering moved to the back, despite two stints with the big club and a career .303 batting average and 97 home runs in six minor-league seasons. Catcher Adan Amezcua, who had barely seen Triple-A in seven seasons, is in the front.

But how can fans know that all this movement means anything, that there really are homegrown All-Stars rising through the ranks? "They're already seeing it," Thrift says. "They all know who Chris Richard is. They all know who Jerry Hairston is. The fans believe it. They know it's going to happen."

Other teams, Thrift says, know it too. He pulls a black binder, the spine labeled n.l. east, off the shelf and leafs through it. On May 2, he says, a team asked about trading for the following players. He reads off five names, mostly Triple-A hurlers. "That's one team," he says with satisfaction. "National League team." He returns the binder to the shelf.

It's May 19 at Bowie, and the Baysox are being one-hit by the first-place Erie Seawolves, a Detroit Tigers affiliate. Through five innings, the Baysox have had only two baserunners. Thanks mainly to a pair of towering first-inning home runs, Erie leads 5-0. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Tim Raines Jr. steps to the plate. A Canadian camera crew was following him earlier, during batting practice, gathering footage of the son of one of the greatest Montreal Expos. In the top of the inning, he made a spectacular dive on a ball, almost saving an RBI single. Almost.

Raines has been learning to switch-hit, but his natural stance is right-handed. That's how he stands in against the Seawolves' Tim Kalita, a lefty. Kalita delivers, and Raines swings and crushes it. Blasts it. The ball rockets toward left field, first dimming in the gloom as it goes, then shining as it rises into the outfield lights. The ad-covered left-field fence is 8 feet tall, and above it are two more rows of ads, each also 8 feet. The ball clears the whole thing, easily, and fades off toward the treetops. People stare after it as Raines trots around the bases.

The Baysox lose, 6 to 1.

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