Like many minor league hopefuls, Branden Florence of the Frederick Keys has spent the bulk of his professional career relocating from town to town. For the Baltimore Orioles farmhand, however, there was one town that proved to be most memorable.
After spending most of spring training in 2003 at the San Francisco Giants' minor league camp, Florence was called up to the big league club for six days in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he sat in the same dugout with Barry Bonds and met Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
"You're just wide-eyed and trying to pick up anything you can pick up," said Florence, who stroked a bases-loaded, pinch-hit double off the wall to win his first big league exhibition game against Seattle. "You try to ask questions here and there without trying to annoy too many people."
These days, the 26-year-old is doing his best to regain the attention of major league officials. After hitting .303 two seasons ago in Hagerstown and nearly .300 last season at Class A San Jose, Florence was poised for a promotion to Class AA. But a shoulder injury nearly derailed his career.
"I dove for a ball and dislocated [my shoulder]," Florence said. "Instead of getting moved up to Double-A, I missed the last month of the season."
After offseason rotator cuff surgery, Florence was released by the Giants on the final day of spring training this year. He spent several weeks playing independent ball in Pennsylvania before being signed by the Orioles.
Though he can't yet throw the ball -- a condition that has relegated him exclusively to DH -- Florence continues to turn heads with his bat. Heading into yesterday's game against Potomac, Florence had hit safely in 14 of his 15 games with the Keys, batting .333 with three home runs and 12 RBI.
"I would hope this is a team that I can stick around with for a long time, but you never know," said Florence, who expects to be able to throw again in a few weeks. "Baseball is a profession where people get moved around a lot, and that's just how it goes."