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O's 'Mike Mystery' strong, silent type Mike Mussina: In terms of his temperament and talent, the Orioles' unassuming ace stands alone.

April 28, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN STAFF

Mussina replied, in typical level-headed fashion, "If I ever went to sell it, who around here would I sell it to?"

Mussina talks about expanding his place a bit, possibly enlarging the garage, but his brother Mark joked that "he's about as mechanically inclined as this," pointing to a bottle of ketchup.

"He bought my dad a 100-acre playpen, is what it turned out to be," said Mark, who is Mussina's only sibling. "Our dad is a lawyer, but he should have been a carpenter."

Call the house in Montoursville during the season, and, chances are, Malcolm will answer the phone.

"I get to baby-sit it once in a while," he said. "It's the closest I'll come to having a house in the middle of 100 acres. It's the kind of place anybody would like to have as their own."

Added responsibilities

During the off-season, Mussina gets together with his parents about twice a week, but they're not the only people he's close with in Montoursville.

His girlfriend, Jana, lives at his house, along with Kyra, her 6-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

Mussina met Jana at Montoursville High, but did not date her. In fact, they hardly knew each other, even though she was a student manager for the baseball team.

She was a junior, he was a freshman.

"He sort of intimidated me," she said. "He was a good ballplayer. He was attractive. He was very smart. I just kind of stayed away."

They became reacquainted when Mussina returned to Montoursville after the 1992 season, after he had gone 18-5 in his first full year in the majors.

They saw each other frequently that winter, in a group of about a half-dozen friends. Mussina didn't actually ask Jana out until two weeks before he had to leave for spring training.

"I don't jump into anything," he said. "I'm not the kind of person who meets somebody the first time and says, 'Hey, you want to go out?' "

Jana couldn't believe he even asked.

"It shocked the heck out of me," she said. "I didn't expect him to want someone who was married, divorced and had a child."

Mussina had just turned 24.

Still, the added responsibility didn't faze him.

"It was something different for me, but it worked out fine," he said. "From the beginning, I didn't have any problems with it."

Jana and Kyra visit him on weekends until school is out, then come down to Baltimore for the summer.

Mussina said he "pretty much" acts as Kyra's father.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Jana said. "They're real close. Her dad doesn't bother with her, so . . ."

Looking back, Jana recognizes that perhaps she could have anticipated this side of Mussina.

When they were just friends, she once asked him, "What's it like to travel to all those different cities?"

Mussina responded with a question of his own.

"What's it like to be a single parent?"

"He thinks a lot," Jana said. "There are a lot of things going on in there."

Things he shares with only a very few.

Quiet -- to a point

Ask Mussina to name the people he hangs out with in Baltimore, and he replies, "Besides my brother?"

Yes, Mike, besides your brother.

"This year is a little different," he said. "Everyone that I hung out with the first four years of my career has moved on. You have to make new friends, find new things to do."

Lately, he has been spending time with reliever Alan Mills, but Mussina is not exactly the second coming of Nuke Laloosh, the party-hearty pitcher from "Bull Durham." He goes home, watches CNN, reads books.

When Frohwirth, Poole and Williamson were with the Orioles, they often could be seen lounging with Mussina on the black leather sofas in the Camden Yards clubhouse, doing crossword puzzles.

"He mixes very well with everyone in here," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "Then again, you don't hear much of him. You don't see much of him. He's not in the middle of a lot of stuff."

Is that because he's quiet?

"That's probably 99 percent of it," Hoiles said. "Plus, the guys roughhousing are usually bigger than him. He's a smart man."

Poole, now with Cleveland, offered a different view.

"To say he's quiet is not quite accurate," Poole said. "He picks his moments to state his opinions. When people do that, it tends to carry more weight."

Whatever, the perception of Mussina -- both inside and outside the clubhouse -- is different from what it was earlier in his career.

"The best way to describe him is that he's all business," Mills said.

He wasn't always regarded that way.

In 1993, Mussina attained notoriety for triggering two memorable uproars within five weeks -- a bench-clearing brawl with Seattle and an All-Star dispute with Toronto manager Cito Gaston.

He now make headlines only when he pitches, and might go the rest of his career without sparking another controversy.

"That would be fine with me," he said. "Anyone who has ever covered me knows I'd rather play in the game and go home than have to deal with anything else."

So, back to the original question:

Who does he hang with?

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