Some changes are under way at Harbor Park in Norfolk, the home of the Orioles’ Triple-A International League affiliate.
Very much a pitcher’s park where it is tough to hit a homer, the fences are being moved in 10 feet in center field and the left- and right-field power alleys. In addition, they are completely redoing the playing field with new turf and dirt.
The Orioles had input into the move and Norfolk manager Ron Johnson, who is with the Orioles this month, said moving the fences in was very needed.
“It is a hard ballpark to develop hitters in,” Johnson said. “Talk to Jonathon Schoop. He played there all year and didn’t hit one home run at home and hit nine on the road. Hit numerous balls that were driven to the gaps and were caught.
“You can only tell a guy so many times, ‘Hey, good swing.’ The best reinforcement of all is results. Plus it’s a better evaluation for the pitchers as well.”
Johnson also said it could be a factor that helps the Orioles in the future in acquiring minor league free agents since some hitters may have been reluctant to play half their games in such a pitcher’s park.
Johnson was right about Schoop’s stats. In Norfolk this year, he didn’t homer in 112 at-bats with a .286 slugging percentage and he hit nine in 158 road at-bats with a .475 slugging percentage.
Speaking of Schoop, the Orioles’ 2011 minor league Player of the Year will make his major league debut tonight batting eighth and playing second base.
Schoop has been with the Orioles since Sept. 3, but this will be his first game action.
“Yeah, I’m excited to be in there and step on the field. For a long time, I’ve been dreaming of this moment and now I have a chance to get in there,” Schoop said.
Even when he wasn’t playing in the games here, he said he was watching and soaking up the experience.
“It was a good experience and I was learning a lot. Being here, I was learning a lot. Being here is a big thing,” he said.
Schoop had his season interrupted for over two months by a stress fracture in his lower back. Over 70 games for Norfolk, he batted .256 with 11 doubles, nine homers and 34 RBIs.
He figures to have some nerves tonight, taking the field in the big leagues for the first time.
“I cannot answer that question,” Schoop said. “It’s my debut but I’ll try to take it a like another game, like a minor league game. I’m sure I’ll have butterflies and will be a little bit nervous.”