Orioles' field of dreams is harvest of potential

August 22, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

The pitcher covering first base had interrupted his path and Curtis Goodwin was upset. Very upset. So he stepped into the pitcher's face and aired him out.

As Goodwin made his way off the field, the opposing crowd in Portland, Maine, got to its feet and booed. He was not impressed. So he exhorted the booers to do better, pumping his arms to let them know they needed to pump up the volume.

"Come on, if you are going to boo me, at least boo me louder so I can hear you," Goodwin said. "That's what I told them. Next time I came up, the whole place was booing and it was sold out. It was great. We're entertainers. It's just like acting. Just like you see it on TV. We all play a role."

And Goodwin plays the lead(off) role for the Double-A Bowie Baysox. And he plays it in flashy fashion. A base stealer can't be bashful, can't be afraid. Goodwin certainly is neither.

"I'm ready for The Show now if they need me now," Goodwin said. "If they think I need to learn more, I've got no problem with that, either. You can't worry about that. That's when it hurts you. When I get there, I want to stay. That's the important thing."

Projected for a 1996 arrival in the major leagues, Goodwin stands at the head of a talented pool of Orioles minor-league outfield prospects, right next to teammate Alex Ochoa, the right fielder with an arm fit for fiction.

More than just a fast runner, Goodwin plays a shallow center field and gets quick, clean breaks on fly balls. He also is a skilled bunter and a bold base stealer.

"If he keeps his head on right, keeps practicing the way he's practiced, and continues on the road he's on, he's going to be a very good major-league player," said Reid Nichols, who coordinates the Orioles' minor-league instruction. "He controls the game when he's on base. The pitcher comes out of what he normally does to try to stop him. He disrupts everything when he's on."

Goodwin, who stands 5 feet 11 and weighs 180 pounds, has a chance to score 100 runs and has stolen 50 bases for the Baysox. A left-handed hitter who sprays the ball to all fields, Goodwin needs to improve his on-base percentage (.324).

"I don't want to take his aggressiveness away from him too early," Nichols said. "As he learns to hit, he eventually will draw enough walks, in my opinion."

A native of Oakland, Calif., Goodwin starred in football, basketball, baseball and track in high school. Many multi-sport athletes with Goodwin's gifts opt for other sports, leaving baseball with what's left. Goodwin, in fact, said he received a scholarship offer to play tailback at Idaho State.

"I had to make a decision to do that or sign a baseball contract," Goodwin said. "It was an easy choice. Baseball always has been my favorite sport."

His earliest baseball memory?

"I kicked in a fence, shaved a handle down with a knife, and used it to play stickball in the street," Goodwin said. "My mom bought me my first bat when I was 9. I remember it was a Reggie Jackson model."

Back then, Goodwin was rubbing elbows with major-league ballplayers. If he seems unintimidated by the prospect of soon playing major-league baseball, maybe it's because he shagged fly balls in the outfield with major-leaguers a decade ago.

"My mom was good friends with Mickey Rivers," Goodwin said of the former New York Yankees and Texas Rangers outfielder. "When the Rangers came to Oakland, Mickey had me down in the dugout sitting next to Buddy Bell, Pete O'Brien and all those guys. I shagged in the outfield with them. Mickey came to some of my Little League games."

A fan of the Oakland Athletics of Billy Martin and Rickey Henderson, Goodwin never stopped to think that baseball players honed their skills elsewhere before playing at the major-league level.

"I didn't know anything about any minor leagues," Goodwin said. "I didn't know anything about all the different levels you had to go through. Even when I was in high school, I thought you got drafted and went right to the major leagues."

Ochoa next on list

Goodwin, 21, selected by the Orioles in the 12th round of the 1991 draft, was named by Baseball America the top prospect in the Single-A Carolina League last season. Ochoa was ranked second.

"I've never seen an arm like his," Jack Voigt, demoted from the Orioles to Bowie in midseason, said of Ochoa. "I told him in spring training he better take care of that arm or he'll be throwing like the rest of us."

So far, Ochoa has taken care of his arm and isn't throwing like the rest of the Orioles' outfielders.

"His arm speaks for itself," Goodwin said of Ochoa. "My arm has gotten a whole lot better just from playing with him. It gives me something to shoot for. If you ever want to make a video and send it to kids on how to throw from the outfield, he's the one you make the video of."

Ochoa, 22, was a third-round draft choice in 1991, a good year for Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels. Ochoa and Goodwin have been teammates for four consecutive seasons and could be for several more.

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