PORTLAND, Maine — Lyman Moore Middle School Principal Stephen Rogers remembered Ryan Flaherty as a quiet, unassuming student who loved sports.
Flaherty, now in line to take over the starting second baseman job for Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, hasn’t changed much in that respect. Flaherty returned to the Portland middle school Thursday morning as part of its career orientation speaker series.
His message? Students don’t need to be the biggest, strongest or most popular in order to achieve their dreams. Flaherty wasn’t.
“I matured later than everybody else. Some of the other guys were already shaving [in middle school],” he told a gymnasium full of students. “I was never the most popular kid. I had a lot of friends and a lot of different friends, but I was never the most popular. Middle school is a crazy time in your life. Everybody goes through it, and everybody starts going in different directions.
“At this time, you may like sports, but you’re not quite there physically,” Flaherty added. “Other kids may be be bigger and stronger than you. You’ll get there. Work on your skills and the [size and speed] will come along.”
By the time he reached Deering High School, Flaherty, the son of longtime University of Southern Maine baseball coach Ed Flaherty, had filled out a bit more. Now 6 feet, 4 inches tall, the younger Flaherty was a finalist for the Fitzpatrick Award as the state’s top high school football senior and won the Mr. Baseball Award as Maine’s best player on the diamond.
After graduating from Deering in 2005, he went on to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where he was noticed by the Chicago Cubs and drafted by that organization. After three years in the Cubs’ minor league network, Flaherty was acquired by the Orioles, and he made Baltimore’s opening day roster in 2012.
With longtime Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts signing a contract to play with the New York Yankees this offseason, Flaherty is now in the running to take the starter’s job at the infield spot.
“It’s really cool that someone from my favorite baseball team came from this school,” said eighth grader Benjamin Haas, 13, who wore a bright orange Orioles T-shirt to school Thursday. “I see him on TV and watch him play baseball — it’s really cool to see him in this school.”
After Rogers interviewed Flaherty on-stage Thursday and showed the assembled students video clips of Flaherty’s first home run and first grand slam — among other highlights of the up-and-comer’s two-year major league career thus far — he opened the forum up to questions from the audience.
From that exchange, the middle schoolers learned Flaherty remains a Boston Celtics fan, the toughest pitcher he’s ever faced was recently retired Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and that his parents wouldn’t let him play Playstation video games for an entire semester if he got any Cs on his report cards.
He said he still plays video games online, and passed out his user name along with his autograph Wednesday to students who want to play live with him through the Internet. But Flaherty said he’s yet to play as himself on the latest major league baseball video game — he said he prefers the Call of Duty series of military games or Madden football brand.
Back on the real field of play, Flaherty said playing at Fenway Park in Boston for the first time and at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs — he hit home runs at both ballparks — were among his most memorable experiences. But he said many middle schoolers may be surprised to learn they have already shared similar experiences without ever having left Portland.
“Every game’s on national TV and a lot’s on the line,” he said. “People always ask if it’s nerve-wracking playing in front of 50,000 fans. But I can remember being just as nerve-wracked playing an eighth-grade basketball game. … Growing up you say, ‘Oh, I want to play in the big leagues’ — with the money and the fame and all that — but it’s the same game I played my whole life.’
“It’s a game,” Flaherty continued. “Even to this day, I would never tell someone I ‘work’ for a living. It’s something I always dreamed of and thought about when I was at Lyman Moore, so whatever you guys aspire to be, don’t sell yourselves short.”