Whiteside rapidly catching O's attention

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Catcher drives in a run off Glavine, shows off his major-league potential

Baseball

March 02, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Last year at this time, Eli Whiteside was little more than camp filler. Imagine a container of backfin crabmeat, with Whiteside representing the box of bread crumbs.

There's more substance to the Orioles' catcher this spring.

Though he won't make the club, Whiteside is maturing into a legitimate major-league prospect. He advanced to Double-A Bowie last season and gained notice for a strong and accurate throwing arm.

Whiteside made his first start yesterday in the Orioles' 7-6 victory over the New York Mets, and drove in a run with an infield hit off two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine. He also came close to picking off a runner at second base.

"You can tell this kid's taking big strides toward the big leagues," said first base coach Rick Dempsey, a catcher for 24 seasons.

Whiteside already has played the role of hero this spring, lining a two-run single into left field Friday to give the Orioles a 7-6 victory over the Florida Marlins. Whiteside clapped his hands after rounding first base, appreciative of the opportunity to contribute.

"That was fun for me," he said flatly, his enthusiasm hidden like a Christmas present. "Being here in camp, that was pretty exciting."

Whiteside, 23, was a late addition to the major-league camp last spring, when the Orioles ran short of catchers. He soaked in as much instruction as time would allow, and remains a receptive student.

"This feels a little different," he said. "They're giving me an opportunity to come here and show what I can do, and I'm just trying to take advantage. Last year I didn't know what to expect. This year, I know most everybody and Coach Dempsey has been working with me a lot. I'm just trying to take everything in."

"He shows a good, strong arm, and he asks questions," Dempsey said. "That's what I like about the young guys. They ask questions about the position, and that shows me they want to cut some corners and do some things. It's a lot brighter than it has been in the past."

As Whiteside stepped to the plate Friday with the bases loaded and two outs, one of manager Mike Hargrove's coaches leaned over and said, "This could be a big at-bat for this kid in his career. It's at-bats like that that can be defining moments in how fast you develop.

"For him to come through was not only good for us, it really made me feel good for him because it's just another positive step in convincing a kid that he can play in the big leagues. And that's a big step you have to take before it becomes an actuality."

Drafted in the sixth round in 2001 out of Delta State, Whiteside eventually will report to the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla. Andy Etchebarren, the Orioles' roving catching instructor, will be waiting for him.

"Eli Whiteside is a big-league prospect," Etchebarren said. "He's got some things to work on, but his throwing is very good. You don't have to work with his throwing very much. But blocking balls and working with pitchers - if I can get that across to him and get him ready to play in the big leagues next year, I'll feel very satisfied with that."

Fordyce still sick

With no improvement in his sore throat, catcher Brook Fordyce was sent home yesterday morning and missed the game against the Mets. He isn't expected to be available today.

Fordyce, who resides in Stuart, left the ballpark in the fifth inning on Friday and had his throat examined. Another appointment will be made for tomorrow if the swelling in his glands hasn't been reduced.

Doctors told Fordyce he can't return until his symptoms are gone. He hasn't appeared in a game this spring.

Remembering Bechler

The Orioles opened their minor-league camp in Sarasota yesterday, giving them another chance to remember pitcher Steve Bechler, who died Feb. 17 from heatstroke.

When players arrived in the clubhouse, they found Bechler's jersey hanging in a locker with his nameplate and No. 51.

Taking one for the team

The purple circle, dark in color and approximately the size of a baseball, looks like a tattoo on John Valentin's left upper arm.

It didn't come from a needle.

A fastball from Rick Croushore nailed Valentin during the Orioles' eighth-inning rally against the Marlins on Friday, when they scored four runs to win. Valentin glanced at Croushore but was grinning as he ran to first base. He was grimacing yesterday while flexing the arm, but he started at third base.

Removing his T-shirt was a chore, let along swinging a bat.

"It didn't hurt [Friday], but it's pretty sore now," he said. "At least we won."

True colors

Both teams wore their bright orange jerseys yesterday, with the Mets distinguished by their neon blue lettering and caps.

"We finally found a team with uglier uniforms than ours," said one Oriole.

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