The decisions haven't been easy for Matt Riley. The Bowie Baysox left-hander, the top pitching prospect in the Baltimore Orioles organization, had been chosen for two all-star teams and the U.S. team in the Pan American Games.
It would have been impossible to please everyone who wanted a piece of the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder. So he based his decisions on who to play for on the one sure thing he knew--that he wanted to be in the majors as soon as possible.
There is little doubt Riley, who turned 20 on Monday, will be in a Baltimore Orioles' uniform soon, perhaps in September, when major league rosters expand from 25 to 40. However, for the past month there were questions concerning where Riley would pitch.
He was chosen to play in the Futures Game--matching each organization's top prospects at Fenway Park in Boston on July 11, two days before the major league All-Star Game--and accepting the invitation was a no-brainer, Riley said. That was one honor he could not pass up. He needed one pitch to retire the only batter he faced in the game.
By playing in the Futures Game and committing to the Pan American team, Riley decided to skip the Class AA All-Star Game in Mobile, Ala., on July 14. Later, though, Riley decided to decline the Pan Am invitation because he would have gotten only one or two starts over three weeks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the Pan Am Games are being held. Riley said he felt that would have impeded the progress he was making in Bowie.
"I like what I have here working with [Baysox Manager Joe Ferguson and pitching coach Dave Schmidt]," Riley said. "They are showing me a lot of things I need to learn. . . . I think I learn better here. I didn't think that leaving was in my best interests."
Riley said he has been paying some attention to the Pan Am Games and was well aware of the United States's surprising victory last week over Cuba. But Riley, who is scheduled to start tonight's game at Harrisburg, Pa., is not second-guessing himself, even though he is coming off two of his poorest outings this season. He yielded six runs on 10 hits (both season highs) and three walks in 4 1/3 innings in a 9-3 loss to Erie last Friday while Orioles General Manager Frank Wren watched from the stands behind home plate.
Still, Riley's statistics are impressive. He is 7-3 with a 2.65 earned run average and 82 strikeouts in 85 innings through the weekend. He has walked just 24 batters and has not allowed a home run since June 28. Results like those are why baseball observers wonder when--not if-- Riley will arrive in Baltimore.
"It's on your mind; you think about it but you try not to let it affect your game," Riley said about when he might get called up. "There would be something wrong with me if I didn't."
Ferguson, who played 12 seasons in the majors, said he has had numerous conversations with Riley about keeping his focus.
"It's always tough when you have any distractions for a young player," Ferguson said. "The younger you are, the more your attention span and concentration are not the same as someone who is 26 or 27 years old who has played eight or nine years."
Ferguson said he thinks Riley has done a good job of maintaining his focus on the field.
"He is very, very dedicated and very intense about what he is trying to do," Ferguson said. "He's too good a competitor. I've never really believed in pressure. Not in a game. It is supposed to be fun. Pressure is something a brain surgeon has."
While Riley waits to see what the immediate future holds, he said he is just trying to improve with every start. People will continue talking about when he might be called up.
"I've been hearing it," Riley said. "It is on my mind. If they don't [call soon], that's fine with me; I've got a good thing here. If they do, that's great. Whatever they do, I'll be out here just giving my best effort."