Portland’s versatile Ryan Flaherty realizing a dream by playing for Baltimore Orioles

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff
Posted May 15, 2012, at 7:25 p.m.

He grew up a Boston Red Sox fan.

And that means the Green Monster, the 37-foot left-field wall at Boston’s Fenway Park, always meant something special to him as it has to many Red Sox fans.

But Portland’s Ryan Flaherty got up close and personal with the Green Monster two weekends ago.

Flaherty, a shortstop by trade, found himself starting in left field for the Baltimore Orioles against the Red Sox.

“Before the game, the outfield coach was trying to get me as ready as possible to play the wall,” said Flaherty on Tuesday. “You can play there for 10 years and not figure it out.

“I did the best I could. I got lucky. There wasn’t anything too difficult. Fortunately, there weren’t any balls that hit high up on the wall. They’re the ones that bounce back toward the infield,” said Flaherty, who did catch a fly ball.

“I spent my whole life going to Fenway. Then I got a chance to play left field. It was pretty cool. I was a little bit nervous but it was a fun day. It was pretty special because my mom and dad [Ed and Debbie] got to come. I had a lot of family and friends there,” said Flaherty.

His loyalty to the Red Sox no longer exists.

“Now it’s fun to beat them,” said Flaherty, whose Orioles swept the Red Sox that weekend.

The fact Flaherty was playing left field is a testament to his versatility and it’s that versatility that helped him land a spot on the Orioles roster.

Entering Tuesday night’s game against New York, Flaherty had played six different positions already this season: five games at third, three apiece at second and in left field and one apiece at shortstop, first base and in right field.

He had handled 42 chances without an error.

“Definitely the more versatile you are the more value you have to the manager,” said the 25-year-old Flaherty, a former three-sports star at Portland’s Deering High School. “It’s definitely fun playing different positions and it also helps the team.”

Flaherty also has talked to bench coach John Russell about being the Orioles’ emergency third-string catcher even though “I’ve actually never caught in a game.”

Despite the fact he’s a rookie, Flaherty already has landed in the record books.

He homered to lead off the first inning of a 6-5 win over Texas on May 10 and J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis followed with homers.

It was the first time in major league history that an American League team had opened the game with three consecutive homers.

It has happened three times in the National League.

“I didn’t realize that until the next day. Someone told me about it at the field. It was pretty cool,” said Flaherty.

Flaherty was a first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs out of Vanderbilt University. He was the 41st overall pick in 2008.

In four minor league seasons, he hit .278 with 57 homers, 267 RBIs, 110 doubles and 13 triples in 450 games. He hit .280 in 132 games between Double-A and Triple-A a year ago with 19 homers, 31 doubles and 88 RBIs.

The Cubs chose not to protect him in the annual Rule 5 draft and the Orioles selected him.

The Rule 5 draft enables teams to obtain certain minor leaguers who have been left off the other clubs’ 40-man roster.

The left-handed hitting Flaherty was eligible because he had been left off the Cubs’ 40-man roster, had signed at or after he reached the age of 19 and had been in the Cubs organization for at least four years.

The Orioles had to pay $50,000 to secure his services.

He must remain on Baltimore’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Cubs for $25,000. He was a little disappointed with the Cubs’ decision but felt they “did what they thought was best for them.”

“And it ended up working out for me,” added the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Flaherty, who is making $480,000.

University of Southern Maine baseball coach Eddie Flaherty is proud of his son.

“He has loved baseball ever since he was 2 years old,” said Flaherty, a former University of Maine standout who used to take his son to his practices and games.

“I grew up around it with my dad. It is definitely the game I love the most,” said Ryan Flaherty.

“It has been a difficult road but he has worked hard to get where he is. It’s amazing,” said the elder Flaherty. “He does all the little things you need to do and he is a team guy.”

Ryan Flaherty said his work ethic can be attributed to his upbringing in Maine.

“When you live in a place where it’s cold seven months out of the year and it’s tough to get outside, you have to adapt. You have to work hard,” said Flaherty.

He hit .324 and belted 14 homers and drove in 63 runs his junior year at Vanderbilt and earned a $906,000 signing bonus after being picked by the Cubs in the draft.

In 2010, Baseball America listed him as the Cubs’ ninth best major league prospect.

Flaherty took a .179 average into Tuesday’s game. He has seven hits in 39 at-bats. He has two RBIs along with his homer.

He said he goes to the ballpark every night expecting to play and prepares for whatever role comes his way.

“It’s a challenge being a utility guy. I’m trying to adapt to it. I get in as much work as I can [before the game],” said Flaherty, who takes ground balls and fly balls.

He is thrilled to be a major leaguer.

“It has been a long road for sure. Going from Portland to Vanderbilt where I had three enjoyable years. Then going through the minors,” said Flaherty.

“The Rule 5 draft presented me with a great opportunity,” Flaherty added. “My goal as a kid was to play in the big leagues and I’m doing that.”

He said in the major leagues, there are more responsibilities off the field, such as public appearances and charity functions, than at any other level.

“On the field, it’s the same game as it was when I was playing at Deering,” said Flaherty. “The bases are the same distance apart. Off the field, there’s a lot more stuff going on. I’m getting used to that.”

He enjoys being an Oriole and playing for manager Buck Showalter. The Orioles are off to a surprising start atop the American League East standings.

“We try to play winning baseball, clean baseball. We go out and compete every night. Each day is different but we go out expecting to win,” said Flaherty.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/15/sports/portlands-versatile-ryan-flaherty-realizing-a-dream-by-playing-for-baltimore-orioles/ printed on December 20, 2014