Growing up in Falls Church, Va., before he would go to Virginia Tech and later become an Angels’ first-round draft pick, Joe Saunders would come to Baltimore to watch his favorite team, the Orioles, play.
Now, after Sunday’s trade from Arizona, Saunders is an Oriole, and he will make his first O’s start tomorrow night at Camden Yards. He won’t need a ticket to get in this time.
“They had Cal here. They had Brady Anderson, Chris Hoiles, Mickey Tettleton, Raffy Palmeiro, Mike Mussina, a bunch of guys, I think Kevin Brown was here for a while when I was a kid,” Saunders said a few minutes ago in the O’s clubhouse. “I remember coming to the games and walking on Eutaw Street and going to the left field bleachers, trying to catch home runs. It’s pretty surreal that now I’m playing for this ballclub.
“We’d come up a handful of times a year. It was only probably a little over an hour drive for us from Virginia. Tried to come see as much as we could.
“I was excited (about the trade). I was excited to come to a contending team. They’ve got a good thing going over here so just looking to contribute the most I can.
“We’ll find out what kind of adjustment it is (coming back to the AL). Got to talk to Matt (Wieters). He has to learn me, and I have to learn him. They’ve got a great defense and pretty dang good offense, so just need to throw some strikes and see what happens.”
Saunders admits that throughout his big league career he would let his mind wander to thoughts of playing for his childhood team.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind, but from a player standpoint, you really have no control over it. If a team wants you, they’ll go after you,” he said. It is just one of those ironic things that I’m back here at home pitching for a team I grew up watching.”
Today was meet-and-greet day for him with his new team.
“Today just go through the basic stuff of shaking everyone’s hand and meeting everybody. Trying to learn everyone’s name. I’m pretty awful with names, so don’t take offense if I forget your name,” he told reporters.
Saunders said there will probably be 20-25 of his family members and friends here when he makes his O’s debut tomorrow. As for pitching in a pennant race, he’s up for it.
“With the Angels, we were pretty much in a pennant race every year. I’m pretty used to pitching in high-intensity games,” he said.
Saunders went 6-10 with an ERA of 4.22 in 21 starts with Arizona. But, over his last two starts, his ERA jumped from 3.52 when he gave up 14 runs over 9 2/3 against the Cardinals and Marlins.
“You know, every pitcher goes through one or two of those starts every year,” Saunders said. “That was my time to have some rough outings, but it’s nice to get a fresh start and hopefully I can impress some people tomorrow.”
Plus, now he’s not too far from Blacksburg and his old school.
“We’re not too far from Hokieland. So hopefully I get a lot of support from them. Hope to go back this offseason and catch some football games,” he said.