“They’re complete opposites but kind of similar in a weird way,” says Chris Taylor, their third roommate in Jackson and Virginia’s sixth alumnus in Seattle’s system. “They’ll bicker back and forth, kind of like brothers. They might not admit it . . . ”
“John won’t admit it,” Proscia interrupts. “I’m not ashamed. John tries to keep up the older brother persona. He won’t admit the love.”
At this Hicks can only laugh. With a nine-hour bus ride ahead after that night’s game, Proscia departs to buy gas and deodorant. Taylor scurries between rooms, folding shirts and packing chargers into a duffel bag. Hicks remains seated, watching “SportsCenter” highlights on loop. Before long, Taylor dumps himself into a suede recliner. Then the conversation turns to dog food.
As the Werm turns
As promised, the ballpark in Clinton, Iowa, reeks of puppy chow. The noxious odor from the Purina factory rolls eastward toward the Mississippi, right into the noses that occupy Ashford University Field. Here, among the lowest rungs of the Mariners’ organization, is where the most famous member of Virginia’s class of 2009 began the season.
But tracking down Keith Werman isn’t easy. He began the season here with the Class A LumberKings. Then he was demoted to rookie ball in Pulaski, Va., shoved into the Appalachian Mountains for five games in eight days. By the time his Clinton roommates remembered to ship his gear, Werman was back in Iowa. Lucky for him, they missed the UPS truck.
An Oakton High School alumnus and former first-team All-Met, Werman has made his way in baseball doing everything coaches love and opponents hate. He floats bloopers into no-man’s land and almost never strikes out. He turns double plays, smooth and quick, straight out of an instructional video. And he bunts. Goodness gracious, does he bunt. For two straight seasons at Virginia, no one in Division I baseball laid down more sacrifices than the 5-foot-8, 145-pound second baseman.
Werman became a celebrity in Charlottesville. His freshman year, when the Cavs hit a lull and Coach Brian O’Connor dropped him into the postseason lineup to shake things up, Werman hit .400. The next year, he hit .414. Before long, fans began wearing custom orange T-shirts emblazoned with “FEAR THE WERM!”
“On teams with the Proscias and the Hicks and the Hultzens and all these people, this kid was adored more than anybody,” O’Connor said, eyes drifting skyward like he’s remembering an old crush. “Pretty cool.”
In this manner, Clinton is perfect for him, with its cheap Miller Lite, Depression-era stadium and fleet of aging loyalists who dish out pregame candy atop the home dugout. But the fans don’t really know Werman. He never played enough. Earlier this season, Clinton tossed Werman onto the disabled list twice in one month, even though he wasn’t injured, just to free a roster spot. He was the only player to have suited up for four Mariners affiliates, none higher than low-Class A. “I can’t bring my girlfriend out here,” he said earlier this month, because the last time he tried, he got demoted the next day.