When Mike Flacco reported to Bluefield last summer, many Orioles fans were following his progress closer than they might with most 31st-round draft picks.
That had a lot to do with the fact that Mike is the younger brother of Joe Flacco, the Ravens quarterback.
But if you look into Mike’s baseball past, you find a player with his own story to tell, someone that is working to make his own name for himself.
Mike Flacco was a 2005 high school grad. But over the next three years his baseball career was slowed almost to a stop by back injuries.
Then, finally healthy, he put up big numbers at Catonsville (Md.) Community College in 2009, batting .399-14-51 and a was third-team Juco all-america. In June, the O’s made him the 926th overall pick and that came in round 31.
At Bluefield, mostly batting fourth, the right-handed hitting, corner infielder batted .272-3-34 in 60 games. He batted .355 with runners in scoring position and finished big, hitting .324-2-21 in 27 August games.
But then, last September, Mike began to feel back pain. Again. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture and underwent therapy that kept him from many baseball activities until February.
“It had me a little behind when camp started and it’s a struggle a bit. I feel like I’m catching up, but camp has been fun, I’ve gotten a lot of work in with some good coaching.
“I’ve been able to go full out and do everything and I’ve been healthy. I feel 100 percent. I still get a little sore and in my mind, with that injury, I’m still protecting myself and holding back a bit. I don’t want to get it hurt again.”
But this time Flacco is confident he’ll overcome the back problems that once threatened to detail his career.
“They (the Orioles) sent me to a back specialist in St. Petersburg (last year). He knew exactly what it was and told me what I needed to do. The trainers here then set me up with a program. When I got home I found a guy who has worked with a lot of baseball players and he got me to that next level.
“It was the same exact injury I got in high school in 2005. Then it was on the left side, now it’s on the right side. Unfortunately it was never quite diagnosed properly in high school, so I never did the things I needed to do to get over it. This time I’m in the right hands to get over this. I’m pretty sure I can finally be done with this injury.”
Mike knows that at 23, he’ll likely be an older guy in whatever league he plays in this season, but he can’t make up for the lost time. He can only do his best to show his stuff from this point forward.
“I’m like a 19-year-old in terms of baseball maturity, not as developed like a (two or three-year) college guy. Those guys have seen better pitching and more pitching than me. It’s not something I think about on the field, you just want to be the best guy out there.”
Having spent so much time dealing with injuries, Flacco says he can really appreciate what it takes just to get to the minor leagues. It all leaves him taking it day-by-day.
But he does have a Major League role model of sorts in terms of what he has been dealing with.
“Justin Morneau went down with the same exact injury. It was a big thing for me mentally to know he will come back from this to play for the Twins. So why can’t I do it?
“No matter what happens this year if at the end of the year I’m healthy and get even 70 games in, I’ll feel pretty good about the season. I just need to get in my stretching and maintain my core strength. It is something I’m a little nervous about probably, but only time will tell.”
Mike doesn’t mind being a little more famous than the average minor leaguer who doesn’t have a brother that is an NFL quarterback.
“People ask if I feel I’m in Joe’s shadow. Not at all. I couldn’t be happier for Joe and everything that’s happened for him. He’s awesome. But it would be great if I got to Baltimore one day with him.”