Lesson learned from friends' deaths may have helped save life of Orioles' Ohlman

Fatal car crash spurred catcher to always wear seat belt, as he did Tuesday when he got into accident of his own

  • Orioles catcher Michael Ohlman has always worn his seat belt since two high school friends died in a car accident. It may have saved his life.
Orioles catcher Michael Ohlman has always worn his seat belt… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
March 08, 2012|By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — — The two brightly colored rubber bands that Orioles catcher Michael Ohlman wears around his right wrist — one orange and the other green — serve as a constant reminder.

They remind him of two high school friends, Brett Wagner and Josh Rogers, who died in an automobile accident 10 weeks ago. They also remind Ohlman to always wear his seat belt when he gets into a car.

The bands read "Josh and Brett: Forever our Light."

"[They] died on Christmas," Ohlman said. "They weren't wearing their seat belts, so these [bracelets] are for them. I always wear them — and remember to buckle up.

"Orange was Brett's favorite color. Green was Josh's."

On Tuesday afternoon, wearing his seat belt might have saved Ohlman's life. The 21-year-old was leaving the Orioles' spring training facility and driving to a local mall to buy a cell phone case for his sister when the driver of another car didn't see him, sideswiped his truck and flipped it over.

Ohlman's truck landed on its roof. He remained conscious and was able to crawl out of the vehicle, but he was taken to a local hospital, where he received a CT scan, which turned out negative. Ohlman had an MRI for a sore right shoulder scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

He has been shelved indefinitely.

"They think everything is good," Ohlman said Wednesday morning. "It's just to be cautious before we go forward with anything. I'm just icing [the shoulder] right now.

"Hopefully, it's a quick recovery."

Ohlman's accident was less than 20 miles away from where the fatal crash involving his friends, former schoolmates of his at nearby Lakewood Ranch High, took place.

"It was pretty scary," he said.

Despite Tuesday's frightening experience, Ohlman's accident doesn't take away from the thrill of his having an impromptu invitation to big league camp.

Ohlman was supposed to be at the Orioles' minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park, but when nonroster invitee Ronny Paulino was stalled with work-visa issues, the team's need for a replacement catcher was critical, especially given the numerous bullpen sessions to be thrown by the 29 pitchers in camp.

The Orioles turned to the lean 6-foot-4, 205-pound Ohlman — who spent last season with Low-A Delmarva — because he lived nearby. Since his arrival on the third day of camp, he has been a staple.

His days at the Ed Smith Stadium complex are numbered — and could end without a big league spring training at-bat — especially now that the team has shuttled in Caleb Joseph from minor league camp. But in his time here, Ohlman has gained valuable experience and advice from Orioles All-Star, Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters.

"I've learned more in the past couple weeks I've been here than ever before," Ohlman said. "I've just tried to take everything in and learn what I can, pick Matt's brain a little bit and learn from the guys who know more than I do."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter wants to make sure Ohlman's shoulder is fine before sending him across town to minor league camp. A career .217 hitter in three professional seasons in the Orioles' organization, Ohlman — an 11th-round pick in 2009 — isn't guaranteed to have the opportunity again.

"The experience of being around this, you never know where it can take a guy," Showalter said. "I hope what happens is that they don't hold it too high on a pedestal and say, 'I'm standing right beside Matt Wieters throwing, I'm standing next to these guys hitting,' You really want them to take that out of it, not put it up too far, but also know that there are things they do better than he does."



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