Baltimore Orioles Rookie Catcher Matt Wieters Tries to Keep His Head Amid the Hyperbole
Saturday, July 11, 2009
BALTIMORE -- Thirty games into his major league career, Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters can turn unassisted quadruple plays and is such a dangerous hitter, he gets intentionally walked in batting practice, at least according to one Web site extolling his virtues. He's also batting .260 with three home runs on the last-place team in the American League East, according to actual MLB statistics.
Thus are the loaded circumstances surrounding Wieters's adjustment to the major league level. Every time the 23-year-old steps to the plate, he carries a 32-ounce bat and the weighty expectations of an entire city. Gradual development? Learning on the job? Those are for normal rookies. "Even atheists believe in Matt Wieters," according to one poster at http:/
Two summers ago, the Orioles drafted Wieters with the fifth pick, and fans here christened him the savior of the organization. That seemed only a slight exaggeration for the 6-foot-5 switch hitter with the bazooka arm who in college earned the nickname "God." Still, the Orioles took a measured approach bringing him along. Last year, Wieters started with Class A Frederick before being promoted to Class AA Bowie. This year, he started with Class AAA Norfolk and, after batting .305 with five home runs in 39 games there, was brought up to Baltimore.
That patience did nothing to diminish the anticipation of Wieters's major league debut. After crowds of 10,130, 13,713 and 11,937 watched the Orioles' home games the three previous days, 42,704 packed Camden Yards on May 29 to see Wieters's first game in a Baltimore uniform. He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat, then proceeded to go 0 for 4 with a strikeout. But the Orioles won the game, the start of which was delayed by rain, and in the early innings a rainbow appeared over the ballpark, a natural phenomenon for which many presumably figured Wieters was responsible.
For his part, Wieters appears to have maintained a steady outlook to the immense expectations.
"The hardest thing is not trying to do too much, especially when you're young," he said. "Trying to do too much can be your worst enemy. You got to go out there and sort of play the way you've been playing, even though it's been a different level of competition."
Wieters said the mental preparation has been more intense than he anticipated. But he also thinks the mix of young and old teammates has eased the transition. He has much to learn, none of it easy. He is sometimes impatient at the plate and said he is still adjusting to better pitching, a claim verified by his numbers: 24 strikeouts with just nine walks after Friday's 2-0 loss to Toronto. He also said he is still in the process of studying different pitchers, as well as hitters for when he gets behind the plate.
Asked recently about Wieters's development, Orioles Manager Dave Trembley smiled and chuckled. He had heard variations of the question so often that his answer sounded scripted.
"Matt Wieters is a young, developing player with a tremendous amount of potential," Trembley said. "I think he has shown an extraordinary amount of poise, and the thing that I like about him the most is he's a stand-up guy."
Trembley later said: "I think his makeup is probably what's allowed him to get here as quickly as he did. The guy is a very special young man."
Few can relate to this transition to the big leagues better than Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Wieters and Varitek were both all-Americans at Georgia Tech before becoming first-round draft picks. Varitek said it takes time to understand the nuances of being a catcher in the major leagues.
"There's a lot more behind-the-scenes things that go on toward being prepared for the game and being prepared for the other team's lineup," said Varitek, a three-time all-star. "And on top of that, you're developing catching; you're developing throwing; you're developing as a hitter. It's just a matter of getting used to all that."
Wieters is sticking to a day-to-day approach, dwelling no more on his shortcomings than on the rapture of his fan base.
"It's hard not to have fun up here," he said. "A bunch of good guys, and good baseball. So I'm pretty excited."
Although Wieters has stepped into the spotlight, he has not stepped out of character. He still has the same passion for the game that drew him to the batting cage outside his parents' home in Goose Creek, S.C. He still would prefer to stay in for a quiet night relaxing and watching ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." He's still with his college sweetheart, only now he's married to her. And he still is uneasy about the media attention on his baseball career.
Even with all of Baltimore investing its faith in his bat and his catching ability, Wieters has managed to remain cool and confident. And he has brought a long-term perspective to his career and the prospect of rebuilding the Orioles.
"This is what I've always dreamt to want to do, and it's exciting to get here now," Wieters said of playing in the major leagues. "But the dream has always been to have a long career, and to stay here as long as possible."