Wieters struggling but hope -- and hype -- live on in Baltimore
BALTIMORE -- As perhaps the most revered Baltimore Oriole in history,
During one three-week stretch at the start of the 1982 season, Ripken went 4 for 55, a slump he still recalls vividly even though he's forgotten exactly how many different people tried to give him advice on how to break it.
"I had everybody telling me how to hit," Ripken says. "Including the bat boy, including the clubhouse guys and everybody else. Pitching coaches, even, and other players. You have to determine who you listen to. That's all maturation and the learning process."
Ripken emerged from that slump just fine. He wound up as the AL Rookie of the Year and followed it up with an MVP the next season while leading the Orioles to their most recent world championship. By that time, it's safe to assume that his rookie slide had long been forgotten by nearly everyone but him.
That's also why Ripken isn't particularly concerned about the Orioles' latest prodigy, second-year switch-hitting catcher
That group includes 2009 All-Star
"A lot of people thought he was going to be an instant star," Orioles hitting coach
Crowley wasn't the first to feel that way. Wieters had been a standout baseball player while growing up in South Carolina as the son of a former minor league pitcher.
"We would kid around with him and call him that," says former Robbins, who is now in the Minnesota Twins' system. "But sometimes, he would kind of be God. It was pretty incredible to see him go in there and close the game after he caught eight innings. It's hard for one guy to dominate a baseball game, but he did it."
Wieters did it in the minors, too, batting .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs in 2008, his first professional season, and then .305 in 2009 before he was finally promoted to the majors. By then the hype in Baltimore was in full bloom. It was the hype that came with Wieters being proclaimed the No. 1 prospect in the country before the 2009 season by
Both the hype and the hope continued to grow as Wieters finished an abbreviated rookie season at .288, with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 354 at-bats.
Wieters deflects the anticipation that came with the results in his first year. "You just have to have your own expectations," he says. "You just have to try to work hard and live up to the expectations you have for yourself and the ability you feel you have."
Those expectations made Wieters' struggles this season even more of a concern. Wieters was batting .289 on May 3, but by mid-June he had bottomed out at .222 after a 37-game stretch that included just six RBIs.
Wieters has been working with Crowley to shorten his swing. "There is still a lot of work and learning to be done," says Crowley.
Wieters says the harder part is the mental adjustments that come with the grind of a prolonged slump. "The big thing is to not worry about what happened in your last at bat," Wieters says. "You're always 0 for 0 when you go up to the plate, no matter whether you've had four hits that day or have zero hits in a month."
Adds Orioles' center fielder
With Wieters' and the Orioles' struggles, the 40,000-plus fans are no more, and Wieters has even begun to hear boos at Camden Yards. But the hope still lives, as is evident among the 21,392 faithful who attended the June 30 game against the A's on Matt Wieters Bobblehead Night.
When Wieters ended a long at-bat by singling sharply to left field, the same fans who had heckled him just a few innings before for striking out on a pitch in the dirt now gave him an ovation suited for something bigger than a seventh-inning single with two out and no one on-base.
Perhaps the reaction is because the hope has been growing recently. Wieters has a hit in 12 of his past 14 games through Wednesday, to raise his average to .243. It's evident within his team as well. Amidst a rather bleak locker room that comes with being 28 games out of first place, Jones flashes optimism when discussing his teammate.
"The big leagues [aren't] easy. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it," Jones says. "It's a challenge amongst himself that he has to do. He has to take on the challenge. Personally, I think, and I think everybody in here thinks, he's going to be a hell of a player. I think that he's a hell of a player right now. Obviously, he's young, but I think he's going to be a beast in this league."
Wieters can find further comfort in someone who's been there before. Ripken still looks back at his rookie year slump as an instrumental part of his growth and maturation in his debut season. Eventually, he thinks that when Wieters is past the comparisons and past the hype, he'll look at it the same way.
"It's unfair, because you're looking at the guy's potential," the Hall of Famer says. "The expectations shouldn't be that high. You should let him evolve and let him develop into the player he's going to be. I think with the talent that he has, he's going to develop into a really good catcher and a really good hitter in the big leagues. Sometimes, you want to push that and make it happen faster than it should. All it takes for him is to build confidence and to put two [strong] weeks together, and his numbers will look completely different."
The Orioles and their dwindling but still passionate fan base can only hope so.