Homers just part of McDonald's growing process, Oates says

The Inside Stuff

July 28, 1992|By Bill Tanton

Ben McDonald, who will pitch for the Orioles tonight against the Yankees in New York, is an enigma.

At 6 feet 7 and 214 pounds, he is a young giant. He's courageous enough to wrestle alligators. He looks as if he could throw a baseball through a brick wall.

Yet McDonald, who is 9-7 with an earned run average of 4.66, has given up more home runs this year than any pitcher in the American League.

Ben has been hit for 25 homers. Next in line is Milwaukee's Bill Wegman with 23.

What's McDonald's problem?

"It's a combination of a lot of things," says Orioles manager Johnny Oates, a former catcher who knows a good bit about pitching.

"Once in a while Ben will take a hitter too lightly. Sometimes he makes the mistake of hanging a curveball to the wrong hitter and the guy hits it out.

"Ben does those things because he's learning to pitch up here. Generally pitchers learn from making those mistakes in the minor leagues, but Ben only played a handful of games in the minors before being brought up here.

"I'm not saying we made a mistake in doing that with him because we needed pitchers here. But Ben is still very inexperienced to be pitching in the regular rotation for a contender. Remember, he's still only 24 years old.

"But he's going to be all right. You wait and see. When all is said and done, he'll reward us."

* There's nothing original about calling a team the Spirit. There once was the St. Louis Spirit, of the American Basketball Association. In 1985 there was the Pittsburgh Spirit in the now defunct Major Soccer League, of which the Baltimore Blast was a member.

Now we have the newly named Baltimore Spirit, of the National Professional Soccer League. While it's nice to have a name that's indigenous to the area (Orioles, Colts, Bays, Banners, Claws, etc.), Spirit is OK with me.

Spirit had the edge from the start, since it was suggested by owner Bill Stealey's wife, Laura. If I owned a team and my wife wanted it called the Spirit, I think I know what it would be called.

Laura Stealey, in a very nice way, is a go-getter. She helped raise the money for lights at Hereford High, where her kids go to school and play soccer. She and Bill have another son who plays soccer at Western Maryland. They love to attend his games.

The Stealeys are a family that brings to Baltimore sports a new . . . well, a new Spirit. Oh, let's face it. The name fits.

One thing about the Spirit and the NPSL that should be popular with the fans here is a league rule that says a team's roster must contain 14 American players of the 16 on a squad.

There's a wealth of college talent around Baltimore and Kenny Cooper, who is the coach and general manager of the Spirit, has shown a willingness with the Blast to sign local players.

In line with all that, the first player signed by the Spirit is Baltimorean Jason Dieter, who has starred for two years at UMBC. As soon as Dieter inked his contract at the Hunt Valley Inn yesterday, Spirit vice president of soccer operations Drew Forrester hit him with the reality of life in pro soccer in America.

"There you are, Jason," said Forrester. "Now you can go out and do clinics and camps for us. Four a day."

* If you catch a glimpse of the Australian men's basketball team during the Olympics, look for a former Baltimorean, Leroy Loggins.

Western Maryland College grad Dave Anders, who has been living Down Under for the last 15 years, informs me that Loggins is now a naturalized Australian and a member of that country's national team. I first met Anders, who is still a U.S. citizen, years ago when he and assistant coach Ronnie Jones were scouting a Johns Hopkins-Dickinson football game for Western Maryland.

* University of Maryland football coach Mark Duffner had tough competition when he spoke at the banquet before last weekend's Big 33 banquet in Hershey, Pa.: Penn State coach Joe Paterno, one of the best extemporaneous talkers anywhere.

The game itself was a flop as Pennsylvania totally outclassed Maryland, 38-0. Starting next year, Pennsylvania will play Ohio. But being there gave Duffner an idea -- having Maryland's best high school players play those from Northern Virginia at College Park.

With the enthusiastic Duffner behind it, don't bet it won't happen.

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