After Mora's pitch, O's Freire connects as a big leaguer

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Pair have been friends since teens in Venezuela

young fan has big night

August 11, 2005|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

For years, Alejandro Freire did all the things you're supposed to do if you want to make the big leagues. He hit for power, he hit for average, and everywhere he went, he worked hard.

But for some reason, there never seemed to be a permanent place for him. He bounced around, with stops in Houston, Detroit and San Francisco, until one day, no one was very interested in a 30-year-old first baseman with no major league experience. He spent most of last season playing for Veracruz in the Mexican League, wondering if his chance had passed him by.

One person who never gave up on Freire, however, was Melvin Mora. Mora and Freire have been friends for nearly 15 years, ever since both were signed by Houston as teenagers out of Venezuela.

"He's been putting up numbers for a long time," Mora said. "He's playing in the minor leagues putting up better numbers than people playing in the big leagues. That's frustrating, when you see a guy in the big leagues [who had worse numbers] and you've spent all your career in the minors. ... Nobody would give him a chance, or a smell of the big leagues. That same thing kind of happened to me in the past."

After Freire hit .312 in 59 games for Zulia Aquilas in the Venezuelan Winter League, Mora urged the Orioles to give his friend a look in spring training. Jim Beattie, the team's executive vice president, agreed, but had low expectations.

"He said, `This guy is a bat, he could help us possibly,'" Beattie said Mora told him. "He was just thinking about the minor leagues for us. He said the guy wanted to play, so we said, well, bring him in spring training and we'll see. Coming out of spring training, to be honest, it didn't even look like [Freire] might have a fit for us."

But when Freire hit .392 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in April at Triple-A Ottawa, and was named the Organizational Player of the Month, the perception of him started to change.

"I always say during spring training, there are guys that aren't even on the radar screen that are going to help us," Beattie said. "[Freire] is one of the guys that showed up and did it."

In 106 games for Ottawa, Freire hit .299 with 19 home runs and 69 RBIs, and when injuries and Rafael Palmeiro's suspension opened up a spot at DH and first base, Freire got the call. He went 0-for-4 in his major league debut on Tuesday, but hit two balls hard, nearly homering on the first pitch he saw. He doubled in the eighth inning last night for his first big league hit.

"It's just a great feeling to be in the big leagues," Freire said. " ... I'm like a little kid. Being around all these guys, all these All-Stars, is amazing."

One of those All-Stars was, of course, Mora, who ran to the top of the dugout steps to grab the ball after Freire's hit. But even though it likely wouldn't have happened without him, Mora refused to take any credit for Freire getting to the major leagues.

"Some guys, everywhere you go, they put a stamp on you like you're a Triple-A guy," Mora said. "But like I was saying to [Freire], he got called up because he put up numbers."

"I know Melvin, and he pulled for me," Freire said. "He said it wasn't [because of] him. He said it was because I did my job in Triple-A, but I know he was making a big [push] for me. He made me sign with the Orioles, and I don't want to let him down."

Dream come true

Last night was uplifting for one Orioles fan, 13-year-old David Neith of Bel Air. Neith, who is critically ill, got an opportunity to meet and pose for pictures with Mora, Luis Matos, Steve Kline and Brian Roberts thanks to the Believe in Tomorrow National Children's Foundation, which gives unique opportunities to sick kids. Neith also got a tour of the clubhouse and the press box, and watched batting practice from the field.

"I had open-heart surgery when I was a kid, and obviously that's a little different, but I can relate to that stuff," Roberts said. "Any time you can do something like that, you just hope you can brighten their day a little."

Smooch of luck

Manager Sam Perlozzo was hoping no one noticed, but just before his Camden Yards debut Tuesday, television cameras caught he and his wife, Beth, exchanging a good-luck kiss by the dugout. After the Orioles won, 5-2, Perlozzo was asked the obvious question: With the ritual become a good-luck tradition?

"I don't think so," Perlozzo said, laughing. "But this week has been pretty special for the both of us. She deserves a kiss more than I do."

Sun staff writer Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site, time: Camden Yards, 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Doug Waechter (4-7, 5.27) vs. Orioles' Bruce Chen (8-6, 4.24)

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