Devereaux beats odds to become a star Overlooked as a Dodger, he blossoms as an Oriole

September 20, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

Mary Devereaux remembers many things about her youngest child when he was growing up. How competitive he was with his three siblings, especially his two brothers. How quiet he was, in school and at home. And, above all, how hard he worked.

"He was the type of person who never gave up, even if it was fixing a broken bicycle chain," she said last week. "He would set a goal, work on it and get it done."

From as far back as he can remember, Mike Devereaux's ultimate goal was to become a major-league ballplayer. It isn't an unusual dream for a kid, even if you're living in Casper, Wyo., and the closest big-league team is hundreds of miles away. But that was all he thought about.

"Baseball was a family tradition," said Devereaux. "It was something that we could do together. That's why I've always liked the game. I didn't want to do anything else in my life."

Everyone in Casper knew the Devereauxs, one of the few black families in a town that grew to 70,000 during the oil boom of the 1970s. Fred Devereaux was an electrical engineer for the Department of Reclamation, and Mary Devereaux was a substitute teacher and full-time mother.

The rules at home were simple: The television was off until the homework was finished, there were set bedtimes during the week and curfews on weekends. Phreda, the oldest, was a straight-A student who went to Harvard. Ron, Fred Jr. and Mike, all a year apart, talked about being baseball players.

Especially Mike.

"He was a little competitive, and he worked harder because he wanted to do what the others were doing," said Mary Devereaux, who had moved with her husband to Wyoming from Texas after they graduated from Prairie View A&M.

"Mike's a hard worker, very persistent," said Fred Devereaux. "That's what set him apart from our other sons. He continued to develop."

It is a portrait that has followed Devereaux throughout his road to Baltimore, from big-league dreamer to burgeoning big-league star. And, like his rise with the Orioles -- from a relatively old rookie in 1989 to one of the major catalysts in the team's 1992 pennant chase -- the progress has been more steady than spectacular.

But the road has not been without its detours, and Devereaux has not been without his doubters. Pursuing baseball dreams

Everywhere that Devereaux has been since leaving Casper -- like his brothers, he was selected the best player in the state when he was a senior in high school -- there have been those who wondered whether he could reach the next level. First, it was the stigma of coming from a part of the country that wasn't known for turning out major-league prospects.

"Initially, that was probably the reason," said Fred Devereaux, who coached all of his sons from Little League through American Legion in a town that, because of long winters, didn't have a high school baseball team. "But he always had it in his mind to play baseball. He had scholarship offers in track and football, but he was a walk-on in baseball."

As a senior at Kelly Walsh High School -- the same school attended by Casper's only other major-leaguer, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tom Browning -- Mike Devereaux was nationally ranked in the 200 meters and a 6-foot, 10-inch high jumper whose state records still stand. But he wanted to play baseball.

Instead of following his brothers to Arizona State, he chose to attend Mesa Community College. It had nothing to do with grades, since Devereaux was a B-minus student. It was because of what happened to his brothers once they left Casper for Arizona State.

"They got lost in the crowd," said Devereaux. "They quit playing before their junior year and pursued their education." Both are now accountants.

So Devereaux went to Mesa, still hanging onto his dream. It was interrupted by a knee injury during, and surgery following, his freshman year, which required him to wear a bulky brace as a sophomore. When Arizona State coach Jim Brock offered Devereaux a scholarship after he helped Mesa finish third in the country, he accepted with some hesitation.

"I definitely saw what they [his brothers] went through and I didn't want to go through the same thing," he said. "I didn't want to go there [Arizona State] and play JV ball."

Overshadowed on No. 1 team

Again, detours took Devereaux off the road. He re-injured the knee in a collision with teammate Oddibe McDowell before his junior year, then played sparingly, hit poorly and was a low-round draft pick. Even when he played well as a senior on the nation's No. 1 team, he shared the outfield with McDowell and Barry Bonds. They became first-round draft picks. Devereaux was a fifth-round choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1985.

"When I was drafted in the 26th round [as a junior], I told myself that I was never going to quit the game, that I would have to be cut or released for me to stop playing," said Devereaux.

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