Orioles fans needn't be blue about new reliever Trombley

March 30, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

Here's a comforting thought for Orioles fans who spend their winters rooting for the University of Maryland men's basketball team:

The Orioles' top new reliever is a Dookie, a right-hander who never won an ACC game, but proudly recalls his days as a member of the Cameron Crazies.

"We slept out for a Carolina game my freshman year," Mike Trombley said. "It was pouring all night. You've got 2,000 kids sleeping out in the rain. We didn't have a tent. We were just out, partying all night.

"We started getting in line at 7 o'clock in the morning. The doors didn't open until 11 for a 1 o'clock game. You've got 2,000 drunk students waiting in line in the pouring rain, dressed in what they wore the day before.

"Then you go in two hours before the game, soaked. Then you watch the game. When the team's on the court, when they stand, we stand. We never sit. But we're kind of hungover by this time. And then it gets hot in there.

"I said, `I didn't know if I can do this too many times.' But it was absolutely worth it."

Trombley, 32, smiles at the memory, smiles at all things Duke. He met his wife there. He became a major-league prospect there. He loved it there, to the point where you want to scream.

Not to worry.

This is one Dookie that Orioles fans can embrace.

Trombley's claim to fame at Duke wasn't his 6-22 career mark as a starter. It was the NCAA record he set by hitting 20 batters in a season in 1989.

Twice, Trombley tied the single-game record of five hit batsmen, including once during a three-inning outing against Georgia Tech.

"I've told the story a thousand times," he said, rolling his eyes. "It was one of those things where I was learning how to pitch, trying to pitch inside.

"I was learning the breaking ball at the time. I probably hit five on sliders, five on splits, maybe a couple on purpose, maybe a couple that got away."

Maybe a couple on purpose?

Trombley's pitching coach at Duke, Bill Hillier, strongly advocated pitching inside. But Hillier said that Trombley had a tendency to lose his command -- accidentally on purpose -- when the opponent was North Carolina.

"I can remember once they were beating us something like 22-4," said Hillier, who is now the head coach at Duke. "They got up, they were squeezing, stealing. Mike started coming in a little further than he usually did.

"Of the 20 guys he hit, I believe 12 or 13 were Carolina guys. There's no friendship between us and Carolina. Mike had no trouble coming inside on people. It wasn't due to a lack of command."

Informed of Hillier's remarks, Trombley stroked his goatee mischievously.

"Don't tell B. J.," he said, referring to Orioles left fielder B.J. Surhoff, a former All-American at North Carolina.

Trombley is no head-hunter -- he has hit only 24 batters in eight major-league seasons. If he lacked control, he never would have evolved from a Duke walk-on to a 24-save closer last season with the Minnesota Twins.

Growing up in western Massachusetts, Trombley wanted to play football at Dartmouth. He was a quarterback and safety in high school, and his place-kicking ability earned him interest from Syracuse, Boston College and other Division I schools.

How, then, did he land at Duke?

"I went down there the day after they beat Georgia Tech in the ACC basketball tournament [in 1985]," Trombley said. "I had just been to Dartmouth the weekend before. There was about three feet of snow on the ground.

"The next weekend I go down to Duke, it was 75 degrees and all the girls were running around in shorts. So I said, `I'm going to go to Duke.' "

He went to play baseball.

But he went without a scholarship.

"There's a funny story I'll never forget," Trombley said. "I walked into the coach's office -- me, my roommate and two other friends. He kind of went down the line. `Hi, Tom Law, nice to see you. Hi, Paul Evans, nice to see you. Hi, Greg Torborg, nice to see you.' He looked at me and went, `And you are?' "

At the time, Trombley had no major-league aspirations. His sophomore year, the team started 7-3, then finished 10-35, at one point losing 19 straight. But Trombley had the best arm in the program, and loved to compete.

The 10-35 season occurred in Hillier's first year as pitching coach. He recalled trying to remove Trombley from one game, only to encounter fierce resistance on the mound.

"I remember him telling me, `Who are you going to put in that's better than me?' I said, `You've got a pretty good point.' I went back to the dugout empty-handed.

"The head guy was looking down at some notes. He looked up and saw that Trombley was still in the ballgame. He said, `What are we doing?' I said, `I've got everything under control.' And then he proceeded to give up back-to-back doubles."

Trombley doesn't dispute Hillier's recollection.

"When you're 10-35 and trying to get the win, you'll say anything," he said, laughing.

An underdog Blue Devil. What a concept.

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