No matter how much the surroundings and routine changed in spring training with baseball still working under COVID-related protocols, Konner Wade was overcome by a familiar feeling at Twin Lakes Park.
Wade had walked those hallways before, dressed inside that clubhouse. And been told that the organization had no room for him.
Four months after trading for him.
There are aspects of his current situation that he hopes won’t air as a rerun.
Wade has been one of Triple-A Norfolk’s best pitchers early in the season, allowing only two earned runs in 19 1/3 innings in his first four appearances, including a start opposite former Orioles right-hander Mike Wright in Charlotte that resulted in six scoreless frames with no walks.
A second opportunity to start came unexpectedly last night after the Orioles recalled prospect Zac Lowther. Idle for eight days, Wade was charged with six runs in three-plus innings in Durham. Travis Lakins Sr. let an inherited runner score on Wander Franco’s homer.
A bunt single and eventual double steal, with Vidal Bruján scoring on the front end, were part of an unlucky first inning. Chance Sisco had a throwing error. Another run scored on shortstop Mason McCoy’s error. But Wade also surrendered a two-run homer to Wyatt Mathisen in the third and his ERA increased from 0.93 to 3.22.
Take the mulligan if it’s offered.
If he’s able to get on the 40-man roster and make his major league debut, and the Orioles won’t judge him harshly on last night’s performance, it would be the next step in a crazy journey that included a brief stop in their organization after former executive Dan Duquette acquired him from the Rockies in November 2017 for $500,000 in international bonus slot money.
A sunk cost with the Orioles keeping him at minor league camp and releasing him.
“That was kind of an odd thing,” Wade, 29, said during a recent phone call, before I jinxed him. “I was coming in, didn’t really know what to expect being in a new organization. I thought I threw well that spring training, but really didn’t throw a ton and didn’t really do enough to separate myself.
“I remember there being a lot of guys in camp that year. I just didn’t do enough. It made me really reflect on how much I wanted to play this game and continue playing this game, and it pushed me to make some changes that needed to be made in my development as a pitcher and it really made me a better baseball player.”
Rejection can break a man or eventually build him up.
“They just said it was a numbers thing, that there wasn’t room for me,” he said. “I didn’t really ask a ton of questions. I was disappointed, so I got out of there.
“It was funny being back, walking back into the Twin Lakes building this year was something I wasn’t expecting to do after I got released from it, but I’m glad I did. I’m excited to be here. I’m enjoying my second go-around with the Orioles.”
Wade’s agent, Page Odle of PSI Sports Management, heard from the Orioles in January and set in motion a reunion that would be arranged by a new front office.
They were searching for guys who, Odle told him, “could consistently chew up some innings.”
“And there are a lot of things I wish I did better in my game, like striking guys out, but that is one thing I feel like I’ve done well is chew up innings and throwing strikes and giving my team a chance to win,” Wade said.
“He said that was an opportunity, they were going to check on all my medical stuff, and a couple weeks later they got back to him and said they were ready to sign me.”
In between his two Orioles contracts was a summer spent with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2018, winter ball in Mexico, a minor league deal with the Red Sox in 2019 and a return to Sugar Land.
“I got released (by the Orioles) the second or third day before the end of spring training, and that’s definitely a tough time to latch on with another team. They’re all trying to cut down from guys,” Wade said. “Went to Indy ball, talked with a couple teams while I was in Indy ball that season and nothing really got worked out. I was lucky enough to go to Mexico that winter and throw well, and I think that’s when I kind of put myself back on the map.”
Wade spent the 2020 pandemic summer at home in Arizona with his wife Laura, who was expecting their first child, a daughter born in October. He has a gym in his back yard and would throw baseballs into a mat as a component of his workouts.
“That just kind of added a whole other wrinkle to the year,” he said. “Obviously, having a pregnant wife made things a little more ... she was a bit more high-risk because she was pregnant, so we had to be pretty careful with what we were doing.”
The reshaping of Wade’s baseball career really began with Sugar Land. His catcher was former major leaguer Derek Norris. His roommate was Kraig Sitton, a former seventh-round pick of the Rockies out of Oregon State University. Another teammate was Dan Runzler, a Giants reliever from 2009-12, when they won two of their three World Series titles.
“We had a lot of veteran players,” Wade said. “I was one of the youngest guys on the team, so it was nice to pick their brains. I was lucky enough to throw to Derek Norris, who was an All-Star two years before, so I learned a lot from him. I really just tried to pick up every little thing I could from all those guys, just because they spent so much time in the game that there was a lot of valuable information that they were giving out on a day-to-day basis.
“I really started working on, I had a slider before and it really wasn’t very good, so I went to Indy ball and I learned from a lot of older veterans that hadn’t really gotten a chance to play before. I kind of just learned more about being a professional and how to go about my business day-to-day and how to get my work in. I think that ultimately allowed me to get back into affiliated baseball in ‘19 with the Red Sox and then, obviously, signing with the Orioles.”
Which carried him back to Twin Lakes Park, where he never expected to return.
“It was definitely weird being in the complex like that,” he said. “I think when we started the first week, it was like six of us, so we got in there quickly, got our work in and got out of there. It gradually got a little bit longer as we got more guys in camp and we started throwing more live BPs and everything, but it was a bit of an adjustment, especially not having as many games to throw in.
“I threw, like, 10 live BPs. I played in a B game against the Pirates, but not having that true game was a bit off for spring training. But it’s just another aspect of the 2021 year that has been different from the rest.”
The Rockies selected Wade in the seventh round in 2013 out of the University of Arizona. He’s registered a 3.76 ERA and 1.271 WHIP in seven minor league seasons, averaging 2.0 walks and 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His Triple-A experience before this year consisted of a start with Pawtucket in 2019, when he allowed one run in five innings.
Wade’s 2021 debut came in Jacksonville on May 7, and he surrendered only one run and two hits in five innings. He followed the first start with 4 2/3 scoreless relief innings against Jacksonville at Harbor Park.
“I’m happy with how I’ve thrown,” he said. “There’s definitely little things that I can pick out of each game that I feel like I can do better at, but I’m really just trying to focus on getting ahead of guys early. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things when you get to this level is, guys that are behind in the count typically get hurt, even on good pitches, because guys can really start focusing on one pitch and start eliminating if you’re not locating. So I’m trying to focus on being ahead in the count consistently and letting my defense work behind me.
“I’m not going to strike a lot of guys out, so if I can engage bad contact, that’s what I try to do.”
The 40-man roster is full and the Orioles are preparing to create room for reliever Hunter Harvey, who’s poised to be reinstated from the 60-day injured list this weekend. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said recently that the Orioles are monitoring all of the arms at Triple-A and suggested that non-roster pitchers aren’t at a big disadvantage.
“I think there’s always an opportunity when you get to the Triple-A level,” Wade said. “So much is timing. I haven’t really been paying attention to what’s going on up there, but if guys are kind of banged up and everything, you’re really just a couple good weeks away from getting that call.
“I try not to put too much focus into that, just go about my work. That’s another thing I learned in my career, is that as much as I think something might happen, I’m usually wrong, so go about my business and get my work in. If that opportunity comes, I would be super grateful and excited, but for me, I just try to go about my business and get my work in day-to-day and just put myself in position to at least be in the conversation.”
Lowther was supposed to start last night. Dean Kremer got the ball on Tuesday. Kyle Bradish earned the win Sunday in his second Triple-A appearance. Three pieces of the rebuild that can block out a 29-year-old career minor leaguer who’s been forced outside affiliated ball and the country.
“From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of really talented arms here,” Wade said. “It would be great if I could get myself into that conversation, but I’m just excited to be here and I’m excited for the opportunity that the Orioles gave me.”