If you thought new Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez looked a little overwhelmed by all the attention at his introductory press conference this morning, you might be interested in the reason why.
During his time with the Rockies, I dealt with Jimenez a couple of times while freelancing for MLB.com. I found him to be a confident, intuitive player, though one who was a little on the shy side. In my experience, he’s a guy who cares more about pitching well, helping his team and being a good teammate than he does about perceptions of him.
Case in point: April 22, 2010 - the day before his first start after tossing the first no-hitter in Rockies history. The sheer joy on his face when he got Atlanta’s Brian McCann to ground out to end the no-no was long gone by the time he arrived at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to take his next turn against the Nationals.
He had already morphed into pre-attack mode. He was still friendly and engaging, but it was clear he was already thinking 24 hours ahead to his getaway day start.
Was Jimenez, then 26, nervous? Not if you judged him by his pregame demeanor. He sheepishly told me he didn’t know who Johnny Vander Meer - the Reds hurler who pitched the only back-to-back no-hitters in major league history in 1938 - was. But he asked about the feat and Vander Meer, and it’s not every day that a big leaguer asks a reporter about the game’s annals.
“Now I’ve heard of him. I’m learning. I’m learning about baseball (history) every day,” Jimenez told me.
His manager at the time, Jim Tracy, relayed the story about the morning after the no-hitter, when he encountered Jimenez returning to the team hotel after a six-mile run through downtown Atlanta. So much for an historical achievement interrupting a pitcher’s preparation.
Jimenez happily talked about his feat, but only when asked. It was clear he was focused on two things: his next start, and the usual jocularity that was that year’s Rockies clubhouse. In fact, I had to wait until Jimenez and some of his teammates were done laughing while watching Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in a Spanish-language interview. They viewed the Internet interview over and over, and the roars grew louder each time they replayed it.
When I finally got a few minutes with Jimenez, he was polite and pointed in his response when I asked him what he most wanted to accomplish in his upcoming start.
“What I focus on is to be out there for my team and to win the game,” Jimenez told me. “I’m not even thinking about a no-hitter. I mean, you’re not going to see that every day. If you start worrying about, ‘Am I going to throw a no-hitter today,’ then you probably won’t make it through the first inning. You have to throw strikes. That’s all I want to do - throw strikes and help my team win the game.”
In other words, pretty much the same thing he said today when he was introduced as the Orioles’ newest acquisition.