Minor's future arrives early Rookie didn't expect to make a start at third this season

September 21, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Ryan Minor took a few steps out of the Orioles' dugout last night, turned to look inside, then jogged slowly to third base. Perhaps he was checking to make sure no one was following him.

Eleven days had passed since Minor's promotion from Double-A, and already he was treading on sacred ground. He hoped only to keep from falling.

Without warning, Minor took the position that had belonged exclusively to Cal Ripken for the past two seasons, ending a consecutive-games streak that stretched to eternity. Minor was 8 years old when it began. He was a bundle of nerves when it concluded.

Because of lengthy pre-game ceremonies that included two awards presentations, there wasn't time to present the lineups over the public-address system. And it was as if nobody within the crowd at Camden Yards noticed Minor standing at third until New York's leadoff hitter, Chuck Knoblauch, grounded to shortstop Mike Bordick.

That's when the video screen in center field showed Ripken sitting in the dugout, and an ovation built that included players on both teams, with Minor tucking his glove under his right arm to applaud.

He had to wait until the fourth inning to field his first ball, a sharp bouncer by Chad Curtis. By then, Minor already had batted once, striking out on three pitches to open the second. He lined a single into right field in the fourth after working the count full, chatting briefly with Yankees first baseman Luis Sojo while crouching his 6-foot-7 frame.

In the sixth, he took a hit away from Chuck Knoblauch with a diving catch of a low line drive.

And to think he almost didn't make it here. Minor batted just .250 at Bowie and struck out 152 times, the most of any player in the Eastern League. He also needed clearance from a University of Virginia orthopedist after complaining of soreness in his left wrist.

He already had carved an interesting story for himself by emerging as one of the organization's top prospects in only his second full professional season. He was an All-American in basketball his junior year at the University of Oklahoma, and joined the Orioles as a 33rd-round selection in the 1996 draft after being cut by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and toiling for the Oklahoma City Calvary of the CBA.

The following year, after tearing up South Atlantic League pitching at Single-A Delmarva, he no longer was viewed as a basketball player trying to make it in another sport. As outrageous as it all seemed to him, Minor was being touted as Ripken's future replacement.

The future came much sooner than he expected.

Minor was told of his assignment shortly before the game. He had debuted as a pinch-hitter on Sept. 13, lining a single up the middle off Anaheim's Allen Watson, and started for the first time Friday at the other infield corner. Now, he was making history, clipping the last link in a chain of 2,632 straight games.

Seeing his name in the lineup last week, he joked that first base and designated hitter would afford his only opportunities to start. And he felt no differently yesterday when talking to his twin brother, Damon, who drove up from Salisbury to watch the game.

"He told me he wasn't starting or anything," said Damon, a first baseman with San Francisco's Double-A affiliate.

"I'm sure he's nervous. Cal's a heck of a guy, a certain Hall of Famer, and you're starting for him. He's probably got some jitters. But people love him, too. He's a great player and a great person. He'll handle this well."

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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