"That core group was fun to watch. Even when [Mussina], went to the Yankees he was still one of my favorite pitchers," recalled Beck, 23, who grew up in Millersville and is now a minor-league pitcher in the Baltimore farm system.
After graduating from the Severn School, Beck played four years at the University of Maryland, then was signed by the Orioles three years ago.
Not in his wildest dreams while playing youth sports for the Severna Park Hornets did he ever imagine being in spring training in Sarasota, Fla., with the Orioles as a minor-league pitching prospect.
"You don't really realize the opportunity you have when you are spring training. People may think you are going through the motions," said Beck after a morning workout at the Orioles' minor league complex, Twin Lakes Park.
"When you take a step back, it is pretty incredible I have been able to play professionally, and for my hometown team," he added. "It is rare. I am getting to play for the team I grew up watching."
As a bonus, he has gotten to work this past offseason at Camden Yards with other minor-league prospects from Maryland. And Beck has been able to meet two of his heroes, Surhoff and Bordick, the latter of whom is special assignment coach for the Orioles.
Beck knows the odds are stacked against him ever pitching for the Orioles. Even though he posted some impressive statistics last season with Single-A Delmarva — where he was 1-1 with an ERA of 2.61 in 14 games out of the bullpen — the 6-foot-3 right-hander was drafted in the 33rd round by the team in 2011.
He didn't command a large signing bonus, like some of the other pitchers he's competing with in the minor-league camp that ends in early April. That means the Orioles don't have a lot invested in Beck; he's not even listed among the top 30 prospects in the system, according to Baseball America.
But that doesn't deter him.
Beck finds comfort by talking to pitcher Zach Clark, who was signed by the Orioles as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2006. Clark spent several years in the minor leagues before he made his major-league debut last season with Baltimore.
He said he's talked to Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, and Rick Peterson, director of pitching development, and believes firmly that "this is an organization that advances the guys that produce. It is a great organization to be with."
Beck is coming back from a tricep injury he suffered last season with Delmarva, which cost him a month of the season.
Dean Albany, a longtime scout for the Orioles, said Beck is now healthy. "Once he was at full strength, he pitched really well" at Delmarva, Albany said. "Hopefully, this year he can contribute to the Frederick bullpen. He looks in good shape. There is no reason why he shouldn't have a good year."
Beck said Peterson, a former pitching coach with the New York Mets, Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers, "is a very analytical guy. He makes sure that all of his pitchers throw low in the [strike] zone and try and get a first-pitch strike."
Beck, who now lives in Bethesda, pays attention: He walked just seven batters in nearly 21 innings last season. Primarily a starting pitcher in college, he said he feels comfortable coming out of the bullpen.
"I like the mindset. It gets the adrenaline pumping, for sure. I want to apply what I have learned and keep it going this year," he says.
Beck was glad to escape the winter weather in Maryland. "That was one of the specific things I was looking forward to," he said of heading to Sarasota in late February. "When you are throwing in Maryland, you really can't replicate the humidity down here. I was definitely very excited to get down here."
After minor-league spring training, the Orioles will fill the rosters of four minor league teams that begin play in early April: the Delmarva Shorebirds in Salisbury, the Frederick Keys, Bowie Baysox and the Norfolk Tides in Virginia.
Beck would love to move up a spot to Frederick of the Carolina League.
"I have no say in what team I break with. I am going to try and put in the effort every day and hopefully advance from last year. Frederick would be ideal," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun