When Adam Kolarek’s minor league baseball season ended with the Double-A Binghamton Mets, the Catonsville native came back home for a visit before heading to Puerto Rico to play winter league baseball for the Carolina Gigantes.
During his time here, he went to a couple of Orioles games with his friends, getting a chance to watch the team he grew up rooting for as a kid.
He didn't realize he was at the park where some of those same friends might be watching him pitch as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
Kolarek, an 11th-round selection out of the University Maryland in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft by the New York Mets, was signed by the Orioles and assigned to the Double-A affiliate Bowie Baysox on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-3 left-hander was released from the Mets' organization on Oct. 7 after pitching for six seasons in the minors. The day he signed with the Orioles, the Mets were playing in the first game of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals.
The Mets have a roster filled with several of his former teammates — notably pitching standouts Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey, outfielder Michael Conforto and infielder Wilmer Flores.
“There are so many guys I’ve played with over the last six seasons with the Mets that are big parts of the team,” said Kolarek, 26. “I’m definitely pulling for those guys because you know they are all my friends.”
Folks in Catonsville will be rooting for Kolarek in the Orioles’ organization, including his biggest supporter, his dad, Frank.
“He’s earned it,” said Frank, a scout in the Orioles’ organization. “Nobody’s given it to him. He’s earned his way to where he is, and I’m rooting for him like everybody else.”
Kolarek appreciates the support.
“It’s so great to hear from so many people — all my family and friends,” he said. “It’s just so exciting. That was what made the decision so easy because it’s a dream come true to play for the Orioles. I’ve been an Oriole fan since I was born and so are all my friends."
He also appreciates his roots.
“I was happy to be a [Catonsville] Comet, a [Maryland] Terp — and being a local and everybody rooting for me. It’s always fun and now I have an opportunity to go to spring training and hopefully make the team out of spring training,” Kolarek said.
At Catonsville, where he was an All-Metro outfielder as a junior and pitcher as a senior, he played for Comets coach Rich Hambor, who wasn't surprised to hear him speak fondly of his days at Catonsville.
“Those words aren’t hollow. They ring true," Hambor said. "They mean something, and it’s nice to hear something from somebody that actually went through it and does believe in it.”
Kolarek’s work ethic was unmatched at Catonsville, whether sweating through extra swings in the batting cage or trying to perfect a pitch.
“He always got out early and started early and at the same time didn’t forget to help out the other guys and know that he was a role model even as an 11th- or 12th-grader,” Hambor said.
Kolarek has maintained that approach. He was selected by the players and coaches as the Most Inspirational Player on the Binghamton Mets this past season. News of his release in early October wasn’t easy.
“It caught me a little bit off guard, but they were pretty straight with me the whole time,” Kolarek said. "They just felt by releasing me now, as opposed to at the end of spring training, it’s going to give me an opportunity to find a team because if you get released at the end of spring training a lot of rosters are full. So, they did right by me and I appreciated it.”
The Orioles, whose only left-handers on the 40-man roster at the end of the season were Wie-Yin Chen, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland and Tim Berry, didn’t waste time, and Kolarek was equally quick in accepting the offer.
“As soon as the offer came through I couldn’t have been any happier and more excited,” he said. “It was a pretty easy decision, especially with how close Bowie and Norfolk and everything is. I’m just excited to go to spring training and show them what I've got.”
Although his overall numbers at Binghamton in 2015 weren’t particularly impressive (2-4, 1 save, 4.43 earned run average) he had some noteworthy streaks. Kolarek had separate scoreless appearance streaks of 8, (15 innings), 12 (16 2/3 innings) and 11 straight (12 innings) games in 2015.
In 67 innings, he had 61 strikeouts, and that came after he changed his arm slot at the beginning of the season.
“He’s more of a low three-quarters guy,” said his father. “He’s not going to be a guy that throws 95 or 96 miles an hour, so he had to figure out a way to sink it. Between the two-seam grip and the low three-quarter (arm slot), it’s giving him that late dip that he’s tougher to barrel up.”
During one stretch, Kolarek retired 23 of 27 batters on ground balls.
“The bottom line is, he’s made progress and the Mets are stacked, as everybody in the world is now finding out," Frank Kolarek said. "And he gets a chance with another ballclub, so he’s very, very grateful.”
Kolarek, who turns 27 in mid-January, wants to make the most of winter ball.
”I really do feel like I’m improving and that’s why I’m down here in Puerto Rico now, to work on all my pitches.” Kolarek said. “The game is about consistency and I’ve definitely proved in the past that I can get outs and now it’s just a matter of really ironing out my arm slot and feeling real good.
"Hopefully, I can be healthy all winter down here and I’ll be able to hit the ground running at spring training.”