Ex-catcher Etchebarren gets to use his kid gloves


August 11, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Andy Etchebarren calls them "my kids," a group of young men mostly between 19 and 21 who have made it to the lowest rung of the Orioles' farm system, the Rookie level. They travel by bus, they make $950 a month, they are eager to learn.

Their guru is Etchebarren, the former Orioles catcher now in his second year as manager of the Bluefield (W.Va.) Orioles.

"If you're not at the big-league level, this is the level to be at," Etchebarren, 51, says.

He likes the relatively short 68-game season and the fact that the longest bus ride on the West Virginia-Virginia-Tennessee Appalachian League circuit is only about three hours. He also says the players tend to be good students.

"They want to learn, and they listen and they work hard," says Etchebarren, who for much of his Orioles career shared catching duties with Elrod Hendricks. "It's our job as instructors to get out of them what the scouts see in them."

Etchebarren has impressive credentials, having worked with Dave McNally in the spring of 1968 on a new breaking pitch. The left-hander already had a big curve, but he wanted something he could throw more consistently for strikes. With Etchebarren's help, he developed a slider. That year, McNally went 22-10 with a 1.95 ERA.

And it was Etchebarren behind the plate in the 1966 World Series when the Orioles gave up just two runs in sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In Bluefield, the key for the players is getting knowledge of the basics, retaining it and building on it, says Etchebarren. Most of the 24 men on the Bluefield roster will spend a year or two at the Rookie level before either moving on to Single-A, or not moving on at all.

The team has fared well. In his first year as manager in 1993, Bluefield tied for first at 44-24. Through Tuesday night, the team was 25-20, three games behind the first-place Princeton (Va.) Reds.

Etchebarren, who played for the Orioles from 1962 to 1975 and lasted in the big leagues until 1978, has spent much of his life since then as a coach, instructor or manager in the minor leagues.

In 1982, after owning and managing a health and racquetball club near his home in Walnut, Calif., for four years, he sold the business and took a job in 1982 with the Milwaukee Brewers as a roving catching instructor. In 1984, he became interim manager of the Brewers' team in Stockton, Calif., then returned to the majors for a stint as Brewers first base coach and catching instructor from 1985 to 1991.

Etchebarren lost his job in a big management shake-up at the end of the 1991 season.

After the Appalachian League season ends Aug. 28, Etchebarren will return to Southern California to begin the long season, the golf season, which goes eight months a year.

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