Dundalk's Bielecki found pitch he could handle

Sun Staff

As a chunky 8-year-old youngster in the Dundalk Little League, MikeBielecki was once exiled to right field because he couldn't catch the ball orhit.

However, a tip from opposing coach Sonny Yeager rescued Bielecki.

"He suggested that I should pitch, because every time I threw the ball, itwas dead on," Bielecki said. "If it hadn't been for him, I might be down atthe [steel] plant working today. He was just a father who had time to helpout."

All Yeager did was touch off a 14-year major league pitching career thatfollowed some sweet moments of Little League revenge.

"Once they put me on the mound, I felt like I could reach out and touch thehitter," said Bielecki, who headlines six inductees tonight into the MarylandAthletic Hall of Fame during ceremonies at Michael's Eighth Avenue in GlenBurnie.

"I started throwing, and they had no chance. I got revenge on all the kidswho had made fun of me, and I couldn't wait to play. I started loving itbecause I was finally good at something."

What happened next is kind of Hollywood-like.

"I grew a couple inches and gained a yard on my fastball," said Bielecki ofhis young teen days when he pitched for Eastfield and Dundalk American Legion.

Bielecki would grow into a 6-foot-3, 195-pound pitcher who could throw hisfastball in the mid-90s and would later "basically teach myself" to pitchduring five years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system.

"They didn't have a lot of money for pitching coaches," he said.

Bielecki taught himself enough to win 19 games at the Triple-A level in1984, being named the Minor League Player of the Year and being called up tothe Pirates for his major league debut.

What followed was a roller-coaster career for five clubs, including fourstints with the Atlanta Braves. Bielecki would compile a 70-73 record with a4.18 ERA, striking out 783, walking 496 and allowing 1,236 hits in 1,231innings.

"Every time it seemed like I was ready to accomplish something, I would gethurt," said Bielecki, who had a ruptured disk in 1984, elbow surgery in 1992and a torn rotator cuff in 1996.

There were two stops in Chicago for the Cubs, where he peaked in 1989 withan 18-7 record and 3.14 ERA. He also pitched in the 1996 World Series and the1989 National League Championship Series.

Not to mention a special thrill in 1995, when the hometown boy from Dundalkwas given the chance to pitch one inning for the Angels in Cal Ripken'srecord-breaking 2,131st consecutive game.

"That meant a lot to me," said Bielecki who ended his career in 1997, whenthe pain in his shoulder wouldn't allow him a comeback attempt with the Orioles.

Other members of 2004 class

Hotsy Alperstein (boxing): Alperstein lost only one dual match in fouryears of intercollegiate boxing, never dropping a bout at the University of Maryland, which was perennially among the top boxing schools in the nation. Hewas a finalist for the Southern Conference welterweight championship in 1941,following that effort the next year by being a finalist in the EasternCollegiate Conference championships when Maryland captured the team title.

Earl Brannan (baseball): A beaning and a shoulder injury caused by a fencecollision slowed Brannan's early advance in the Pirates' organization. But hebounced back to hit .341 in the Tri-State playoffs for Cal Ermer's Charlotteteam. Brannan spent six seasons in the minor leagues before deciding thatDouble-A would be his zenith on the field, prompting him to become a highschool coach at Glen Burnie for seven years. He then spent 25 years workingfor the Baltimore County Bureau of Recreation and Parks, attracting specialattention and admiration for his work with the disabled.

Marty Lyons (football): Lyons accomplished his many pro football feats as amember of the New York Jets' defensive front four, the Sack Exchange, whichalso included Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko. He was also a top defensiveplayer for the University of Alabama when it won the national championship in1978. His connection to Maryland? Lyons was born in 1957 in Takoma Park andwent on to become seventh in both sacks (43) and tackles (901) in Jetshistory.

Chuck Thompson (radio/TV): His phrases "Ain't the beer cold" and "Go towar, Miss Agnes" became part of Baltimore's sports culture, while Thompson washeaded for baseball broadcasting's highest honor, the Ford Frick Award, in1993. Thompson's familiar baritone voice became as famous and recognizable asthe players he talked about. The 2004 season marks his 54th season as part ofthe Baltimore sports scene.

Edmund Thompson (speedboat racing): Operating a Class C runabout in thelate 1940s and 1950s, Thompson won national championships, set world recordsand hauled home trophies from the East Coast's biggest regattas. At one point,he won 27 straight races and first established in June 1948 a world speedrecord of 53.255 mph in his class at Wilson's Point in Middle River. Thompson,son of the founder of Baltimore's Thompson Automotive, went on to set numeroushigher world records, culminating with a speed of 64.057 mph at Bush River in1954.

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