Orosco is armed for future in baseball After 15 seasons, he's going strong

March 07, 1997|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Jesse Orosco knows the routine when his agent comes over for dinner.

Orosco and his wife, Leticia, will chat about their kids with Orosco's agent, Alan Meersand, and sit down to eat. But soon the talk will turn to baseball. And then to the length of Orosco's career.

That's when the Orioles' 39-year-old middle reliever knows he's in trouble. Meersand and Leticia Orosco are of one mind; the man Orioles pitchers call "El Viejo" (Spanish for old man) can pitch until he's 50 years old.

"He might not be able to go until he's 50, but Alan and I feel the same way, that he can go for a while longer," Leticia Orosco said. "Fifty is just a number we talk about. That may be really pushing him. He'll probably quit on us before that time. We love to kid him about it."

Orosco has logged 15 full major-league seasons in his left arm. He turns 40 in April. Teams he has pitched for have appeared in two World Series, and he has been selected to two All-Star Games. Isn't this supposed to be the twilight of his career?

"I'm not sure," Orosco said. "They're pretty serious about this pitching-to-50 thing. My agent knows I'm still pitching at 40. He always says, 'God, Jess, we're going to get you to pitch until the age of 50.'

"After I re-signed with the Orioles, my wife picked up on it. She gets a kick out of it."

Orosco could be with the Orioles until he's 43. His latest contract has options for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. After that, who knows. Meersand doesn't think it will be Orosco's final deal and has ammunition to back up his claim.

Orosco is one of the most durable pitchers in the game. He and Wade Boggs are the only players to be in the majors since Cal Ripken started his consecutive games streak in 1982 and never spend time on the disabled list, besides the Iron Man himself, of course.

He is a smart pitcher who learned to offset a once blazing fastball with off-speed and breaking stuff, which has helped Orosco as he losses velocity and movement. He knows when to push his arm and when to rest.

"This is totally serious," Meersand said. "We've got him going to 43 [years old] on this one. There's no reason he can't keep going after that. He never gets fat. He doesn't drink."

Finding a job shouldn't be a problem either in an era when effective left-handers are in high demand. Orosco is one of the best in baseball. If not for two rough starts in Texas last year, Orosco would have had a 1.52 ERA. He held a lead or tie in 38 of the 41 games he entered in that situation.

He has held batters to a .185 average in close and late-inning situations over the past five years -- fourth best in the majors. Opponents have a .221 lifetime average against Orosco -- fourth best among active pitchers. His lifetime 2.98 ERA is tied with Lee Smith for third among active pitchers.

"I've been able to take care of my arm pretty well and stay in shape," Orosco said. "My experience has helped me out the most -- learning the batters better, staying within myself, improving my pitch patterns."

The San Diego Padres were very interested in signing Orosco this winter and the California native said he would have likely gone there if he would have been declared a free agent. Orosco lives in the San Diego area, is neighbors with Padres star Tony Gwynn and works out in the off-season at Jack Murphy Stadium, home of the Padres.

"It would have been great if he could have stayed out here," Leticia Orosco said. "He felt compelled to stay with Baltimore because the Orioles have been great to him, but in the other sense he was thinking of his family and that would have been a much better situation for him."

Fifteen years on the road have been tough on Orosco, his wife and his three young children, and watching his kids grow up first-hand is a priority. He calls home up to eight times a day from the road, often finding Leticia on the car phone driving the kids to one practice or another.

The pull of his family may be what eventually prompts Orosco to call it quits sometime before his 50th birthday in the year 2007. And he can't escape Leticia's wrath about that either.

"I always tease him about quitting, too," Leticia said. "I say, 'Jesse, don't you think you should retire to be with your family?' He stops in his tracks and says, 'Really.' Then I'll tell him I just wanted to see how he'd react.

"He says I'm just like Alan [Meersand]."

That's double trouble for El Viejo.

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent: Atlanta Braves

Site: West Palm Beach, Fla.

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: None

Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Key vs. Braves' John Smoltz

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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