Hoey's long road back took him to Camden Yards to face his former team

When the tall right-hander came into the game for the Minnesota Twins on Monday night at Camden Yards, there were some in the O's organization that must have been experiencing mixed emotions.

While they wanted the Orioles to win, they must have also felt really good for pitcher Jim Hoey.

His long road back to the majors had culminated in Hoey facing his former team, the Orioles. He had last pitched in the majors for the Orioles on Sept. 29, 2007.

Hoey, drafted by the Birds in Round 13 out of Rider College in 2003, was traded to the Twins in December in the deal that brought shortstop J.J. Hardy to Baltimore.

Coaches and players with the Orioles had been teammates with Hoey and worked with him as he pitched in 189 minor league games and 35 major league games.

They knew of his comeback story. Hoey had Tommy John surgery in 2004. In 2008, after he spent parts of the previous two years with the Orioles, he suffered a shoulder injury that led to another major surgery and he missed all of that 2008 season.

Hoey had battled back to make the big leagues after one major surgery from 2004. A few years back he wasn't sure he could do it all over again.

"The second surgery was tough," he said Tuesday in the Twins clubhouse. "At one point, I thought I was done, that my career was over. You can't look to the future at that point, you just take it one day at a time. It was frustrating and tough. I had my family to back me up, but they can only do so much.

"In 2009, there were a couple of times I did think my career might be over. Tough time with a shoulder, that's a different animal than the elbow."

But the 28-year-old Hoey, who pitched for six different O's minor league clubs, never packed it in and never gave up on his dream. The Orioles players and coaches that called him and sent him texts late Monday night and Tuesday could appreciate what Hoey overcame - not once, but twice - to make it to this point.

Hoey's road back last season took him to Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

"Last year, I was focusing on getting the arm strength back," Hoey said. "Location was kind of weak, I was kind of all over the place. Now, I can focus more on location because the arm strength is there. Now, I feel like where I was in '06, fully healthy and I can hit my spots."

He sure did that Monday. He entered in the last of the seventh for his Twins debut with two on, two out and Minnesota nursing a 3-2 lead. He then retired Derrek Lee on a fly ball to center on a 96 mph heater. Hoey retired the side in order in the eighth. He held the lead for Francisco Liriano in what turned into a 5-3 Minnesota victory.

Hoey noted the irony that he made it back to the majors as the Twins were playing his former team, a club that stuck with him through two surgeries and helped him get back to the bigs.

"(The Orioles) gave me the opportunity and they were great to me. They saw me through two surgeries and stuck with me. They did. In 2009 and '10, they stuck with me," Hoey said.

"I worked with some great people with the O's - Scott McGregor, Kennie Steenstra, Gary Kendall, Brad Komminsk. I had a ton of great guys help me. I still talk to a lot of them and text them. It's a close family. Even though we compete, we are friends off the field."

In December, the news came that after all those games and years with the Orioles, he was with a new team after his trade to the Twins.

"I was excited. I have experienced nothing but great things with this organization. Everyone here is amazing - some great guys, stand-up guys. It was very flattering to know someone wanted you as a pitcher after you've been through so much. I had to prove to them I was worth it," he said.

Hoey has worked hard this spring on a split-finger pitch that serves as a nice offspeed pitch to keep hitters from trying to catch up to his big-time fastball.

So, yeah, some people who work for the Orioles probably were not too upset when Hoey showed his stuff Monday night on the mound at Camden Yards.

They'd seen the guy bust his butt and overcome a lot to get there.

Hoey figures to always have a fond spot for those orange and black uniforms and those that wear them.

"I've got a lot of history there. You don't forget where you grew up. I went to see Bergy (Brad Bergesen), saw (Zach) Britton, saw all those guys that I grew up with. It puts a smile on my face and was really nice to see those guys," he said.

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