The average player on the Orioles' roster reached the big leagues in 4 1/2 years. Andy Mitchell has been trying for nine.
To heck with the numbers, the Baltimore farmhand won't give up.
"I know I can pitch up there, and I've got to keep trying," he said.
No one has labored longer in the system than Mitchell, who will turn 31 in September. A right-hander who throws submarine-style, he has been stuck at Triple-A for five years.
At Norfolk, Va., the Tides roll in and the Tides roll out. Mitchell? He stays put. He has never set foot on the field at Camden Yards. And he knows his chances wane with each move the Orioles make to push their young guns up the chain.
Fourteen times this season, the Orioles have promoted a pitcher from Norfolk to shore up their sagging staff. Several pitchers have been summoned twice. One, David Hernandez, 24, has been called up three times. When the carousel stops, it's the kids who get off.
Meanwhile, Mitchell just gets older. He has done everything the club has asked. He has pitched as a starter, a middle reliever and a closer, more than 700 innings in all, with never a losing season. But is that enough to warrant The Call?
"In this game, some guys are labeled 'prospects' and others are 'organization players,' " said Gary Allenson, Norfolk's manager. "The Orioles have some up-and-coming pitchers, but Andy's not in that mix."
He is fast becoming the club's version of "Crash" Davis from the movie "Bull Durham."
"He [Mitchell] has persevered for nine years, and he has saved a few of our other arms along the way," Allenson said. "But he's not really projected as a big league player."
To heck with opinions, Mitchell won't give up.
"God is in control," he said. Not Allenson or Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail or even Peter Angelos, the owner.
"God has a plan for my life," said Mitchell, a born-again Christian from Conyers, Ga. "Whatever his timing is, that's what's going to happen."
For Mitchell, there is no separation of church and plate. Nine years? He could pitch until hell freezes over, those who know him say.
"For Andy, baseball is a calling from the Lord, a ministry," said Kevin Rollins, a childhood friend. "He believes that God has given him this talent and that he is to use it, to be a good steward of his gifts. He can set his faith like flint because he knows this is what he's supposed to be doing - and nothing has happened in the last nine years to change that."
His iron will was forged early on. As a youngster, Mitchell would fall asleep with a ball in his grasp. He played pickup games long after nightfall. There's a scar on his leg where he fell on a metal horseshoe stake while chasing a fly ball in the dark. Fifteen stitches closed the wound.
"Baseball was on Andy's mind all the time," said Robert Mitchell, his father. "On rainy days he'd play it in the house, using rolled-up socks for a ball until he knocked a picture off the wall."
His dad taught Andy to pitch. Robert Mitchell would sit on a bucket in the side yard and await his son's offerings.
"I'm not going to move," he'd say. "If I don't catch the ball, you're going into the woods to get it."
That's how Mitchell learned to throw strikes.
He pored over box scores, starred in rec-league ball and fashioned himself, literally, after favorite players.
"However [the Atlanta Braves'] Chipper Jones wore his pants, well, Andy always did the same," Rollins said.
Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher, was his idol - and the namesake of Mitchell's own 3-year-old son, Nolan.
"For 25 years, Andy has eaten, slept and breathed baseball," said Ryan Hodges, a lifelong friend. "As kids, anytime we didn't have equipment, we'd make our own. We would wad up paper towels and coat them with duct tape, making seams on the ball so it would break like a slider or curve."
Excelling on the team at Heritage High wasn't enough for Mitchell. He had to pitch in the classroom, too.
"In one class, we hid a tape ball and a PVC pipe in the cabinet and played ball whenever the teacher left the room," Rollins said. "Andy even kept score and figured up batting averages."
Georgia Tech gave Mitchell a baseball scholarship in 1998 and put him at third base. A year later, Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) arrived and beat him out at that position.
Undaunted, Mitchell returned to the mound, went undefeated as a junior and helped Georgia Tech win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Though he earned a degree in business management, there was no doubt where his future lay.
"The night before our accounting final, Andy and a couple of other guys bought a huge marker board to help us study," Hodges said. "Within 15 minutes, we had a strike zone drawn on that board and were playing a game of tape ball in the apartment."