Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Angels in Anaheim, Calif., ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http://www.sunspot.net.
For a guy who has always been such a proficient hitter, Carlos Mendez has a lot of strikes against him.
He plays a variety of positions, but none particularly well. He has bounced around four organizations in the past five years, giving the impression that he's not worth keeping. And with his soft build - the only ripples on his stomach are from the potato chips he munches - he looks like he should be directing traffic into the ballpark or making last call at the beer concession.
So what is this guy doing on the Orioles' bench? Probably relishing the chance to wear a major league uniform, no matter how it fits.
In his 13th professional season, with 1,081 games played in the minors, Mendez, 28, is beginning to shed the labels that weren't sewn into his collar. The Orioles purchased his contract from Triple-A Ottawa on Monday, brought him to Anaheim and listed him among their reserves for last night's game against the Angels. He's finally getting a shot.
"I have some years left in me, and I think I proved the last couple years that I've learned more about the game and how to play it a little bit better," said Mendez, who's listed at 6 feet, 228 pounds. "I don't have all the tools. I can't run or play great defense, but I've managed to stay in the game and do some things to stay in the lineup every day."
The Lynx will miss having him there. Mendez was batting .384 with 14 doubles, four homers and 33 RBIs. His 66 hits led the International League.
A .300 career hitter entering the season, Mendez simply was doing what he has always done - finding holes in the infield, driving the ball into the gaps, making solid contract, getting on base.
"He hits the ball hard; he can hit it soft. He just gets his hits," said Ottawa manager Gary Allenson. "He knows how to stay back, stay behind the ball and use the whole field. He could play for a few big league clubs. Maybe not start, but be a utility guy off the bench - catch a little bit, play some first base. He could hit .270, .280. I guarantee it."
He won't win any Gold Gloves, but the Orioles aren't as interested in his defense. They like having an emergency catcher in case manager Mike Hargrove pinch hits for Geronimo Gil or Brook Fordyce. They like having someone on the bench who has been called a "hitting machine" by Ottawa field coach Dave Cash.
And they'd rather have Mendez sit for long stretches than Jose Leon, an emerging prospect who needs to play every day.
Mendez caught only once for Ottawa this season, but appeared behind the plate in 63 games for Triple-A Sacramento last summer. The Lynx needed him at first base, where he began to look more comfortable before being promoted.
"When we started off the first two weeks, he couldn't pick anything in the dirt," Allenson said. "He was knocking it away and stuff. He also doesn't have a lot of range. He comes off his feet a little bit too much to catch a ball. But he's done a yeoman's job out there, and he's gotten better."
Mendez is the Orioles' 2003 version of pitcher Travis Driskill, who reached the majors last year in his 10th professional season. Mendez was invited to spring training the past four years, most recently after being signed in November as a minor league free agent by former vice president Syd Thrift. He hit .324 last season but was ignored by the Oakland Athletics, who called up another non-roster catcher, Cody McKay, in September.
"I was happy for him. He was a friend," Mendez said.
In 2001, the Detroit Tigers almost kept him as their backup catcher out of spring training after he hit 19 homers and drove in 72 runs the previous year at Triple-A Toledo. But two stints on the disabled list probably ruined his chances of joining the club during the summer.
Mendez kept getting lost in the roster shuffles, as if no team needed a career .300 hitter, even for a few weeks.
"We were wondering about that, too," Cash said. "I looked at his numbers, and I couldn't believe that somebody wouldn't give him a shot, at least to be a DH somewhere. Maybe a lot of people don't know about him.
"He hits all kinds of pitches in all kinds of areas. He's been amazing the whole season. He's probably been our best two-out hitter with runners in scoring position. He finds a way to put the bat on the ball."
Said infielder Brian Roberts, who has been playing shortstop at Ottawa: "Sometimes this game doesn't make any sense. Guys get labeled, and it's not fair."
The Orioles have seen them all. They decided to judge Mendez on their own.
His statistics make for a better read anyway.
"It's one of those things where he's gotten a tag that he's kind of a man without a position," said Mike Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations. "Have bat, will travel."