"I would say a chip on my shoulder started to form at that point in time," Arrieta said. "To know that I had a lot to prove and was capable of doing so."
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Despite his success in the minors and his dominating victory over China in the 2008 Olympics, Arrieta never rose above No. 4 in Baseball America's list of top Orioles prospects, though he is the only "Cavalry" member to make the majors and not get sent back down.
Now, he is the Opening Day starter, a slot that opened when veteran Jeremy Guthrie was dealt to Colorado in February.
"Oh man, all those clichés are true at this point in time. Just the honor that that brings," Arrieta said. "The confidence and trust from the organization that comes along with something like Opening Day starter."
What makes the appointment so impressive is that there was a chance Arrieta would start the season at Triple-A Norfolk. He was coming back from August surgery that removed a bone spur — the size of a ping pong ball with the sides crushed in — from his pitching elbow.
The surgery was supposed to limit him for several months. His goal was to cut that timetable in half. He didn't just want to be ready for spring training; he wanted to be ahead of where he was the previous February.
Arrieta converted his two-car garage into a high-quality gym. He worked tirelessly with a therapist. And when he made it to spring training, he was throwing his fastball in the mid-90s consistently and pain-free, really for the first time since he was a college freshman.
"Having that thing taken out, being able to sustain my stuff throughout the duration of my outings, really, really helps me in a positive way mentally," Arrieta said. "That is going to be a huge, huge benefit for me this year."
"An air of confidence"
His teammates watched his rapid recovery. Their respect grew and continues to do so — a slight departure from when Arrieta first strutted into the Orioles clubhouse in 2009 as a spring training invitee.
While in Fort Lauderdale, Arrieta wrote a blog, mainly for friends and family, in which he criticized the Orioles' spring training facility. He also questioned the conditioning and mechanics of certain big leaguers. One Oriole printed out an entry and distributed it to the team. It got the players' attention, and Arrieta quickly scrapped the blog. But the damage was done.
Veteran Aubrey Huff was particularly hard on the prospect, loudly chastising him for walking around the clubhouse bare-chested. At one point, Huff took off his own shirt, exposed his less-than-sculpted chest and proclaimed loudly to Arrieta that his was the body of an actual major leaguer. Huff's teammates erupted with laughter.
Arrieta learned from his first camp, but also said he never let the razzing bother him.
"From time to time you are going to get crap from guys, and a lot of times they want to see how you react to it," he said. "If you are a guy who puts his head down or gets aggressive or angry when guys are just trying to see how you react as a person."
Arrieta said he believes he has a good relationship with everyone in the current Orioles clubhouse. What was first perceived as arrogance has a different twist now, and his teammates are embracing it.
"He's got an air of confidence about him," said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, "which is what you want at the top of the rotation."
Arrieta expects to be the Orioles' top guy for years to come. He makes no apologies for that.
Even if he is, though, he promises to keep working.
Working to be the best pitcher and photographer and father and ping-pong player and couch/chair lifter that he can be.
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