Matusz and Tillman taking every opportunity

Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz are the youngest players on the Orioles. Matusz is 22, and Tillman is 21.

But despite their youth and inexperience, their passion reminds me of what baseball is all about: Having fun while playing the game and enjoying the moment.

Tillman is the veteran of the duo. He's in his fourth pro season and has 11 major league starts. Matusz has just completed his first professional season and says he's learned more in his eight starts for the Orioles than he did in his previous three years in college.

"It's been a lot to handle," Matusz said. "I didn't think I'd be here this quickly. But it's been a lot of fun."

Tillman said being part of a large group of younger players on the Orioles has made the transition to the big leagues easier.

"Having all these young guys on the team, we can all help each other out," Tillman added. "We can point things out to each other about what we might be doing well or doing poorly."

All of the rookies who have played for the Orioles this season have enjoyed the experience, but Tillman and Matusz have taken advantage of every opportunity to learn from and enjoy their time in the majors.

On road trips they made a point to tour every stadium the Orioles played in. They visited the broadcast booth, the press box and the stands. They took a tour of the Green Monster at Fenway Park. And they made a point of soaking up as much of the atmosphere at the new Yankee Stadium as they could.

They recently even made a visit to the Orioles team store at the Warehouse and checked out the merchandise among fans prior to a home game. Tillman wanted to see what you could buy and even joked with the store clerks when they couldn't find their shirts on display.

"Chris and I always show up early and we're always among the last to leave," Matusz said. "We've been called 'old school' but we enjoy being around the field and we have that same passion for the game."

When the Orioles played in New York earlier this month, Tillman and Matusz started on back-to-back days. In the Friday night game Tillman allowed the base hit to Derek Jeter which gave Jeter the record for most base hits in Yankees history in passing Lou Gehrig. The celebration carried over to Matusz's start the following afternoon.

"In my first start at Yankee Stadium the first player I'm going to face is Derek Jeter," Matusz recalled, "and he comes to the plate and gets a standing ovation from 50,000 fans. I stood on the mound and looked around at the fans cheering and I was thinking, 'This is so awesome. I can't wait to pitch today.'"

Matusz pitched 7 strong innings that day and got the win. But the experience was worth more than that.

"I wasn't nervous. I wasn't scared. I just felt good," he said. "I felt like this is where I want to be, on the mound in the big leagues. This is such a great opportunity.

Tillman and Matusz are also aware of their role as the Orioles build toward contention.

"We both feel we are at the right place at the right time," Tillman said. "It's exciting to see what's going on and to be part of the young group. And there are more players coming behind us."

You need talent to succeed in the majors but you also need character. The Orioles are fortunate to have two young talented pitchers who are also fine young men who respect the game and appreciate where they are.

"It wasn't that long ago that we were sitting at home watching baseball on TV with our families," Matusz said. "And now we're pitching in the biggest spotlight and we try to take advantage of every opportunity."

The Orioles need to add veteran help to their roster for next season. But the rebuilding plan in which the young players are being developed from within, while slow, is working. Tillman and Matusz are a big part of the future success the O's hope to enjoy. And their enthusiasm and passion is a welcome change that will hopefully begin to rub off on all the players in the Orioles clubhouse.