Talk about bizarre twists: Jeffrey Maier, the young fan who helped rob the Baltimore Orioles of a possible World Series berth ten years ago may be about to join them as a player.
This is a story about fate, a story about a curse — if you care to believe in such things. It is a story about coming to grips with them, and maybe, just maybe, reversing them. It is a story about a 12-year-old boy in a black T-shirt who is now a polished 22-year-old man with a marketable talent. And it is a story about a beleaguered baseball team that may be preparing to take a wild stab at manipulating fate by confronting it head-on.
Jeffrey Maier, a future Baltimore Oriole? Oh, dear heaven. The blood of Orioles fandom boils at the very thought of the name, let alone the thought of such a traitorous alliance.
The story begins on Oct. 9, 1996, when Maier, then 12 years old and a rabid New York Yankees fan, reached over the wall at Yankee Stadium and altered the course of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, as well as the fates — if you care to believe in such things — of two franchises.
And the story ends, at least for now, with a phone call Orioles owner Peter Angelos received a few days ago. You’ll never guess, the caller said, who is a pretty good college baseball player now, the all-time hits leader at Wesleyan (Conn.) University, an outfielder-third baseman with a decent chance of being drafted during next week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft.
For nearly 13 years now, Angelos has presided over a once-proud franchise whose fortunes never seemed to recover from that October night in the Bronx. The Orioles lost the game — thanks to what still stands as one of the worst umpiring calls in history; while the play was ruled a home run, tying the game, replays showed Maier clearly interfered with the ball — and lost the series. They returned to the playoffs in 1997, lost again, and since then have endured eight consecutive losing seasons, the longest such stretch in franchise history.
The Orioles, during the Major League Baseball first-year player draft next Tuesday and Wednesday, have the power to select Jeff (as he now calls himself) Maier of Wesleyan University and see what happens.
According to Angelos, they just might. “I wouldn’t be at all opposed to [drafting Maier]. In fact, I’d say it’s a very interesting development,” Angelos said. “You can say the Orioles are very seriously considering him. I know this much: I was at that game, and he certainly did seem to be a heck of an outfielder. Sure, we’d take him. In fact, I like the idea more and more, the more I think about it.”
“I guess it’s an interesting story that I’m no longer 12, and that I’ve done something for myself, both scholastically and athletically,” said Maier, who graduated last month with a degree in government and economics. “And I’m proud of what I’ve done. If anything, I’ve tried to get out of the shadow of what happened when I was 12, and in a way I’ve been able to use this attention to showcase what I am now and what I’ve done with my life since then.”
Although the lingering outrage of Orioles fans is more accurately directed at Richie Garcia — the right field umpire who blew the call that night — through the years Maier has become a symbol of the Orioles’ futility. “You can’t blame Jeffrey Maier for all the bad [management] decisions that led to eight straight losing seasons,” Pente said. “But if you believe in fate, you could see [the Maier] play as the beginning of it spiraling downwards.”
Amazing. Of course, Maier could wind up with the Yankees, another team, or nobody. But it’ll be an interesting story.
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