By Jesse Yomtov, The Baltimore Sun
8:46 PM EDT, June 16, 2011
Emerging from the Aberdeen IronBirds' clubhouse before practice Wednesday, Austin Knight and Joe Velleggia had one pressing concern for Friday's season opener: tickets.
Every player is allocated two tickets for each home game, but that wasn't going to be nearly enough.
"I've got about 20 people coming Friday," Knight, a Boys' Latin alum, said to the IronBirds' public relations director. "I'll pay for them if I need to."
"We asked around, and lot of guys [on the team] aren't going to be using them," said Velleggia, who played at Calvert Hall. "But even with those we're short."
The IronBirds staff should probably get used to this type of request from Velleggia and Knight as the local players try to make their mark with the Orioles' affiliate in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League.
Velleggia and Knight are no strangers to the IronBirds' home, Ripken Stadium, which hosts the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association state title games.
Velleggia led Calvert Hall to MIAA A Conference state championships in 2005 and 2006, and Knight anchored the Boys' Latin team that won the 2008 MIAA B Conference championship.
"I remember back in high school when I walked into this stadium, it was a little overwhelming," said Knight, an outfielder and Reisterstown native. "To be able to come back now, it's an honor."
Velleggia — a Monkton native who earned All-Metro and All-County honors as a catcher his junior and senior seasons — had the walk-off hit in both his team's championship games.
"Those are great memories of mine, so it's great to be back here," Velleggia said. "Hopefully, I can have as much success here as I did in high school."
Velleggia played at Old Dominion and was selected by the Orioles in the 42nd round of the 2009 draft. He chose to stay in school for his senior year, after which the Orioles selected him again, in the 40th round of the 2010 draft.
Velleggia signed and spent last season with the Bluefield Orioles of the Rookie-level Appalachian League, batting .210 with one home run and eight RBIs in 31 games.
Knight spent two seasons playing at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Fla. The Orioles selected him in the 36th round of the 2010 draft, and he was assigned to Aberdeen. He batted .225 with 17 RBIs in 54 games for the IronBirds last season.
"I didn't have the greatest season last year," Knight said. "Playing in this atmosphere, being so excited to be here every single game, fulfilling that dream of being a professional baseball player — there's a lot of emotions involved.
"So this offseason, not only did I work hard on my fielding and hitting, but the mental side of the game as well."
Velleggia and Knight formed a bond in the offseason, joining forces to prepare for this upcoming year.
"Austin and I actually hit a bunch together," Velleggia said. "He's got a cage at his house, so we go over there and help each other out; throw to each other, hit off his machine."
New IronBirds manager Leo Gomez, who played for the Orioles from 1990 to 1995, said Velleggia and Knight will both see plenty of action.
"They did a good job in spring training and extended spring," Gomez said. "I know for sure that they're going to have a lot of playing time through the regular season."
Velleggia and Knight both grew up Orioles fans and said it was a dream come true to have been drafted by their favorite club.
"It's really neat, growing up an Orioles fan and now being a part of the organization," Velleggia said. "Our main goal is to keep progressing and obviously we dream of one day being up there at Camden Yards."
For now, they're excited to at least be close enough to play in front of their friends and families.
"It's really cool to have everyone nearby, especially your high school friends who you try to keep in touch with through college," Knight said. "To have them come out to the games, look up in the stands and see a whole bunch of them there, it feels great to have that support."
"It's really great, all my family is nearby," Velleggia added. "My dad has pretty much been my coach my entire life, so he'll be able to watch me every game and critique me. I'm sure I'll get an earful from him after every game.
"We'll have a lot of support through both the good, and the bad."
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