Even after eight years in the minors, Jeff Wilson still has fun pitching for the Frederick Keys. As the oldest player on the Class A team's roster, however, he also is realistic about his chances for advancement in the Baltimore Orioles system.
"Really, I think it's just a lost cause," said Wilson, who spent parts of two seasons at the Class AAA level -- on the brink of the majors -- before a series of demotions. "I really don't think there's anything else that I can prove to [the Orioles]. . . . Obviously, I'm a 28-year-old guy in High-A ball, so it's just a thing where I feel like I'm pitching for the 29 other teams out in the league."
Originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1997, Wilson came to the Orioles two years later in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and immediately made an impact. He quickly became one of the top starting pitchers in the Eastern League, with a 3.32 ERA in Class AA Bowie. He earned a promotion to Class AAA Rochester, where he again impressed.
A 2-11 record with Rochester the following season, however, was a setback. Despite leading all Orioles farmhands with a 2.18 ERA in 50 relief appearances for Bowie in 2002, Wilson last season was again demoted to Frederick, where he now finds himself being as much a mentor as a pitcher.
"They do ask a lot of questions and I try to help," said Wilson. "Anytime I see an opportunity available, I'm going to chirp in a little bit. Some of the guys disguise it pretty well. They might come up and ask me questions as a friend, but they might be trying to store some information."
Despite his 3-2 record in 10 starts this season with the Keys, the North Carolina resident -- who enjoys fishing and detailing cars -- knows he soon may have to make a tough career decision.
"I'm getting older," said Wilson. "I've got family back home that wants me to be at home, so of course some goals have changed. But there's still a flame burning. All I need is to catch a little wind to boost up a little bit. I'm just waiting for that type of opportunity."