Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of space suits and Pete Orr

VIERA, Fla – The Dugout starts the final week of spring training in, of all places, major league camp. Washington is hosting Detroit in Space Coast Stadium, which was originally built to be the first spring home of the Florida Marlins.

Washington (which at the time was still Montreal) traded spring training homes with Florida when Jeffery Loria traded in the Expos to take over ownership of the Marlins. Loria reasoned he put plenty of effort into building Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium wanted his new team’s spring home to be in Jupiter. Washington, which was being run by the MLB, really didn’t have anyone to argue, so the deal was done.

Today was NASA day at the ballpark. Though cold and windy, the Nationals didn’t scrap plans to have a man wearing a space suit throw out the first pitch. He missed the plate by a moon shot.

Prior to the start of the game, The Dugout caught up with Nationals utility man Pete Orr. It was the first time Orr saw his story in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball.

For those who don’t know the story, here it is:

You Put Your Right Hand In
Canada is not a hot bed for baseball talent but it consistently
provides players for the annual MLB first-year player draft. In 2004,
for example, 38 Canadians were chosen in the 50-round draft.

Richmond Braves second baseman Pete Orr is an example of a
Canadian making a living playing America’s past time. Orr, who
attended Galveston (Texas) Community College, signed with Atlanta as
an undrafted free agent in 1999. Since then, Orr has moved steadily up
through the Braves’ minor league system.

Growing up in Newmarket, Ontario, Orr had to struggle to get
recognition from scouts. The much shorter season in the Great White
North places players at a disadvantage, especially when compared to
their counterparts who grew up in Florida or the Caribbean.

“It’s a disadvantage, but you don’t even know it,” Orr said. “When
you are there playing you don’t even realize. When I got older – like 17
or 18 – we practiced indoors in the winter when we could. You don’t
realize how much of a disadvantage it is until you get older.”

Orr has overcome the disadvantage. In 2003, he was the Greenville
Braves lone representative on the Double-A Southern League’s postseason
All-Star team. That same year he was named the league’s “Hustler of the Year.”

He began 2004 with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, playing second and third base, shortstop, and the outfield.

Orr considers second base his best position, but doesn’t mind the
role of utility man if it gets him on the field.

The drive to play sometimes causes players to overlook other
aspects of their lives. Former Greenville Brave Billy McCarthy
committed just such an oversight in an incident that Orr recalls as one
of the more remarkable baseball stories.

Pete Orr: [The team] thought [McCarthy] had a broken hand. It
was his left hand. He went to the doctor to get an MRI and got the
MRI done on his wrong hand.

He had to pass the MRI to play. He was all excited. He thought
he was going to get to play. The trainer was like, “Wait a minute,
Billy, this is the wrong hand. You still can’t play. He had to go getanother MRI.”

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