Now 23, Maier is still reaching out, but now it's for a job

ON BASEBALL

December 07, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.-- --At first glance, he's your average, fresh-faced, fresh-out-of-college type with an earnest attitude.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, like him mulling around the hotel lobby here at baseball's winter meetings - all of them looking to snag the handshake of a big league executive in hopes it eventually will turn into a job.

Look deeper into this 23-year-old's face, though, and there is something familiar. It's still framed by brown curly hair, but now he has a goatee and a sturdier jawline. He has maintained that wide smile, too, but former Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco is no longer standing below him, pointing in anger.

This kid hawking himself at the winter meetings is introduced as Jeff Maier.

But that Jeff stuff doesn't float in Baltimore. No way, no how.

For Orioles fans, Maier is baseball's Peter Pan.

His name will always be Jeffrey.

And he'll always be a 12-year-old kid hanging over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium, interfering, making a nice catch and perhaps altering history. Maier will forever remain in baseball lore for snatching Derek Jeter's fly ball from Tarasco's waiting glove and a potential World Series appearance from Baltimore's clutches in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series.

"I would like to think that everyone would be able to put their differences aside, but obviously that would be impossible to happen," Maier said. "I'm as big a baseball fan as anybody and I'm sure that I would have hard feelings to this day if I were in the situation as most Orioles fans."

Then, like a sharp prospective employee, Maier added: "If I was working in the Orioles' front office, I'd be dedicating myself to the Orioles and putting the best possible product on the field as we could, and hopefully the fans would respect me for that."

Wait, what have these winter meetings become? First the Orioles consider trading poster boy Brian Roberts, and now they are hiring Jeffrey Maier? What's next, naming Cito Gaston manager? Re-signing Albert Belle to play left? Truth is, Maier, still a Yankees fan, is speaking hypothetically. He'd love to work for the Orioles - or any other team that would give him a shot. He has interviewed with four clubs during the first three days of the winter meetings, but not the Orioles. He put a call into Orioles vice president Jim Duquette - whose cousin, Dan, once coached Maier - but hadn't heard back.

He'll get a job somewhere, though.

He has a background in baseball that goes beyond the catch that crushed a city. He played center field and third base at Division III Wesleyan (Conn.) University, where he finished last season as the school's all-time hits leader.

He's also industrious. After graduating with an economics and government degree, Maier spent part of the summer scouting the Cape Cod League for ESPN's Peter Gammons and produced a 42-page scouting booklet that he distributed here.

As much as it may be difficult to swallow, Maier is also smart, friendly and engaging.

And he has that name, the one that every baseball executive already knows.

"It's something that maybe earlier, growing up and starting off college, it was something I ran away from," Maier said. "But now I realize it is nothing I should be ashamed of. It's something that everyone else would have done had they been in my situation."

He learned to use that fateful fly ball to his advantage.

"It's a great icebreaker, to have something to talk about," he said. "You get someone to engage in conversation with you and, if that's a start, if that's what gets my reports and resume in front of somebody, then that's great."

All he wants now is to get his glove hand in the door. He'll take care of the rest.

"I am confident that an organization that would be willing to hire me would be hiring me based on my merits, my academics and based upon the work I did this summer," Maier said. "My involvement in a fly ball would by no means qualify me for any position in a baseball operations department."

Still, he understands the catch will always be part of his identity. And he has no problem having fun with it. Earlier this year he played himself in I Hate Jeffrey Maier, a nine-minute movie by Owings Mills resident and Wesleyan film student Lizz Morhaim.

This week, he laughed as some Orioles officials needled him. Assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel shook Maier's hand and joked, "You hit into my wallet." Tripp Norton, assistant director of minor league operations, told Maier that he had no problem with him, because he wasn't with the organization in 1996.

Some Orioles fans, however, surely won't forgive too easily. It has been 10 years, and Maier said he still hasn't stopped in Baltimore on his way up and down the highway.

But, he said, maybe that could change. Maybe he'll someday land a job with the organization and help get it back into the ALCS. Then he'd watch from a private box, with his hand in a revival and not a glove.

"I'd work for anybody. I don't rule anybody out," Maier said. "To bring a championship to Baltimore, and be a part of that, would be a lot of fun.

"I would look at that as a great way to bury the hatchet."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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