Growing up around major-league clubhouses taught Jerry Hairston at a young age what it takes to be a professional baseball player. He didn't think he was quite ready after graduating from high school in 1995, so he thanked the Orioles for drafting him with their 42nd pick and went off to college.
Now, despite two successful years at Southern Illinois, after which the Orioles drafted him again -- this time in the 11th round -- he still says he's not there yet. But he's getting closer. And the evidence is all over Appalachian League box scores and underscored by the respect the shortstop has commanded in his first 62 pro games at Rookie-level Bluefield.
"I wanted to sign out of high school, but I wasn't ready," Hairston said. "Mentally I was, but not physically. I needed the college experience to grow as a person and as a ballplayer."
That growth is reflected in the leadoff hitter's .328 batting average, 12 steals, 18 walks and just 24 strikeouts, which makes him a strong bet for the league postseason all-star team to be announced later this week. But other qualities have drawn even more raves.
The son and namesake of the former Chicago White Sox outfielder, Hairston displays an ingrained knowledge of the game rare in Appalachian Leaguers, said Bluefield manager Bobby Dickerson.
"He's everything a manager wants," Dickerson said. "We can hit-and-run with him. He has all three of our squeeze bunts this season. He just has instincts you don't see here.
"We had Eddy Martinez here last year, and he has more potential with his skills. But he's light years behind Jerry in knowledge. If I'm going to war, I want Jerry."
Hairston played second base in high school. He was moved to third his first season at Southern Illinois (when he hit .340) and led the Salukis with a .380 average after moving to short last season.
A lack of speed was supposed to keep him from playing middle infield professionally, but successful surgery to remove bone chips from his left ankle has improved his mobility.
"I don't worry about hearing that stuff, but I use it to inspire me," he said. "I take a lot of pride in my defense, helping the team everyday somehow."
His early efforts -- including committing just 10 errors on the bumpy Appalachian infields -- lead Dickerson to discount those reports.
"Speed's overrated," he said. "He has first-step quickness. He made a play here where he went to the hole, backhanded it and threw the guy out with a one-hop throw. That's on ESPN if he's in the majors."
Hairston's tutelage began as a youngster when he cavorted about the White Sox clubhouse with the likes of Ryan Luzinski, Greg's son, who is now in the Orioles' system at Triple-A Rochester.
Hairston began watching players going about their daily business of being professionals. One was a young outfielder he took as a role model, one he hopes could eventually be a teammate.
"I was so glad to see the Orioles got Harold Baines back," he said. "That was a player I watched and respected. Just the way he went about things. I mean, 5-for-5 or 0-for-5, he knew how to take the ebbs and flows like a consummate professional. I need to be that way."
Class of the Class of '97
The Orioles have gotten promising returns from other high-round selections in the recent June draft, even with outfielder Darnell McDonald, one of two first-round picks, not scheduled to report to instructional camp until September.
Hot starters: Jayson Werth, first round, Sarasota: batting .303; Raymond Casteel, seventh, Sarasota: 2.25 ERA in 60 innings to lead the team; Sean Jones, 14th, Sarasota: 1.38 ERA, 13 innings; Richard Bauer, fifth, Bluefield: eight wins leads team, 2.63 ERA, 65 strikeouts, 68 1/3 innings; Jay Spurgeon, eighth, Bluefield: 3.30 ERA, 30 innings.
Cold starters: Ntema Ndungidi, sandwich pick, Sarasota: hitting .174; Sean Douglass, second, Sarasota: 9.00 ERA, 12 innings; Shannon Carter, fourth, Sarasota: hitting .189, 41 strikeouts in 143 at-bats.
Delmarva's Ryan Minor hit his fourth grand slam Tuesday to tie the South Atlantic League record.
Minor, named Friday the league's best third baseman and "Most Outstanding Major League Prospect," will be the Orioles' Single-A representative in the Arizona Fall League.