The kid beats the odds Orioles: Mike Bordick has made the leap from a professional afterthought to a highly respected major-leaguer and Cal Ripken's successor at shortstop.

February 12, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The kid couldn't hit much and didn't have enough speed to steal bases, two compelling reasons to ignore him. But there was something in the way he played that made Oakland Athletics scout J. P. Ricciardi believe the young shortstop might have a future in professional baseball.

Twenty-six teams picked a total of 982 players in the June 1986 draft, and the kid was not among them. But, as Ricciardi watched him play a month later in the Cape Cod League, the scout thought that maybe if the kid continued to develop, if he could hit just a bit, he could become a utility infielder in the majors.

Ricciardi offered the shortstop a small bonus, take it or leave it, and he took it. Today the kid, Mike Bordick, is expected to work out in an Orioles uniform for the first time in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as he prepares to replace perhaps the greatest shortstop in the history of the game, Cal Ripken.

That year, 1986, was Ricciardi's first as a professional area scout for Oakland, covering New England, New York and New Jersey, and he had seen Bordick play seven or eight times for one of the region's best college teams, the University of Maine.

Ricciardi, a former minor-league infielder himself, liked Bordick's instincts. The kid, Ricciardi thought, was mentally tough and played hard. He never lost his concentration, he anticipated well and he made defensive adjustments. He played hard, and though he was just 5 feet 10 and 160 pounds, he held his ground whenever a runner barreled into second base on a double-play attempt.

Even so, as Ricciardi turned in a list of potential draft choices to Oakland, he ranked Bordick 15th on a list of the region's top 25 players.

Ricciardi wasn't even sure the kid wanted to play pro ball. Before the draft, Ricciardi called Bordick, a junior with a year of eligibility left, and asked whether he was interested in signing; Bordick sounded scared. "It was like he was worried he could lose his NCAA scholarship money," Ricciardi remembered. "I said, 'Hey, Mike, don't feel like you have to talk to me.' After a few minutes, I let him go."

Bordick acknowledges his fear: "I felt like I was betraying my university."

So Bordick went undrafted, and in late June he was asked to play on Cape Cod in a summer league loaded with prospects. It so happened that a shortstop Oakland had drafted, Ken Bowen, also was playing there that summer.

The team's negotiations with Bowen were not going well, and Oakland scouting director Dick Bogard flew to Massachusetts to see Bowen. Ricciardi met him, and mentioned that while Bogard was in the area, he ought to look at this other kid, Bordick.

Bogard talked to Bowen, and, discouraged, asked Ricciardi what it would take to sign Bordick. "Fifteen thousand," Ricciardi said.

"You've got my blessing," Bogard said, and the next morning, Ricciardi called Bordick and offered him a job.

There were no negotiations. Bordick asked for a day to mull over his decision, and he called friends and family. "I went bonkers," said his father, Michael, who was retired from the Air Force. "I was so excited for him. He asked me, 'Do you think I ought to go back and finish college?' I said, 'Well, you can go to school and finish up any time and get your degree, but you only have one shot at this. This is your dream. I'd like to see you graduate from college, but this has been your dream, and a lot of people don't have their dream come true.' "

Bordick signed, unaware that Oakland projected him as a utility infielder in the minors. He had no idea that only one in seven drafted players make it to the majors; he was sure he would be in the big leagues in a couple of years. That's what he wanted, and his father taught him that if you wanted something badly enough, you could sacrifice and work hard and make it happen.

Learning the game cold

And Mike Bordick had sacrificed and worked hard, there was no question about that.

He played baseball religiously as a kid, growing up in New York and Maine, and threw stones, hundreds and hundreds, his father remembered. If Bordick was walking along a street or near a railroad track, he would absent-mindedly pick up a stone and take aim at the nearest telephone pole. Bordick wasn't big, but he had a terrific throwing arm and could numb the hand of a friend in a simple game of catch. He and his brother, Mark, 4 years younger, competed in everything, Wiffle ball, basketball and football.

But Mike loved baseball, pushing himself, maintaining an unusual discipline. He would rise at 5: 30 a.m. to prepare for school, and then after classes and practice, he would come home and study and be in bed by 8 p.m. "He felt like he needed his rest," Michael Bordick said. "He felt like he needed that to perform the way he did in sports, and for school."

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