Jon Shepherd: O’s forged on contributions of unwanted and overlooked

A friend of mine lived in Montana for most of his life and came to Baltimore to attend law school. Before driving into town the night before classes began, he had never set foot here. He was recruited for the school from afar and he signed his rental agreement on a row home from afar. As his old pickup limped across the country and into town around 3 a.m. that morning, he saw something that was forever etched in his memory. Parking in the alley behind the row home, he saw something in his headlights before turning them off. A striped cat sprinted out of the darkness, across the beams, and into the darkness on the other side of the alley. Almost immediately, a giant rat scampered through the light, hot on the trail of the cat. The lesson he took from that experience was that while the cat might look rather impressive, you really have to respect the rats because this is a rat town. The flashy and chic are out of place in Baltimore. Hard work and dependability is the currency here.

I call Baltimore a rat town with fondness. It is a charming dirty, old port town with wonderful places spread throughout. For an outsider who does not know how to navigate Baltimore, the city may seem unimpressive. This is certainly true for those who think watching the entirety of “The Wire” has earned them a doctorate in sociology. Truth is, this city, like a rat, does not look or feel exceptional at first glance. You need to see the rat every day to truly appreciate what it can do. The 2014 Orioles are a rat team. Many of the players who have been so crucial in their contribution to this club were disregarded, unwanted or overlooked.

Nelson Cruz was certainly disregarded. Looking for a big contract, the specter of PEDs, poor defense and the loss of a draft pick led teams to sign other players. In the end, he accepted a deal with Baltimore similar to those signed by A.J. Pierzynski, a crumbling and unpopular catcher, and Josh Johnson, a faded and injured pitcher. For a power hitter who launched 27 home runs in 109 games in 2013, that was probably surprising. In response, he has done nothing but work hard and was a major reason the team kept afloat in April and May when the pitching struggled.

Delmon Young was certainly unwanted. The former baseball prodigy was forced to take a minor league deal as spring training began. The shine he had when he was a prospect had worn off with another unimpressive year at the plate last summer and continued poor defensive play. Combine that limited profile with his off-the-field issues, including his arrest for aggravated harassment when he used an anti-Semitic slur in 2012, as well as his multiple physical confrontations with umpires in the minors, few teams were willing to give him much of a shot. In 2014, he has given the Orioles the jolt they needed in July and August as capable pinch-hitter and filling in for the struggling everyman Steve Pearce.

Caleb Joseph was certainly overlooked. In 2013, he was languishing as a 27-year-old organizational player at Double-A Bowie. The team appeared unimpressed with his defense and gave him significant time at first base, left field and designated hitter. He was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and available to anyone willing to give him a shot. No one was. Now? As we wrote last week, he is playing like an All-Star.

I would argue everyone on this club fits the disregarded, unwanted or overlooked designation. Adam Jones, one of the best 30 players in the game, is often discounted for his free-swinging ways, bubble blowing and usually poor defensive metrics. He is not as celebrated as guys like David Price or Miguel Cabrera. Nor do the Orioles have four or five well-known superstars on their roster like those Tigers. The Orioles have hardworking, lunch pail guys who are trying their best to bring back the glory days to the Orioles. Something most of us do each day for Baltimore, the city.

This team and our city might be disregarded, unwanted or overlooked, but who cares? We will go out and succeed. Fan up and embrace the rat.

Jon Shepherd blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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