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Catching Up With ... former Oriole Mike Devereaux

Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "

He hit the Orioles' first-ever home run at Camden Yards in 1992, but that poke is long forgotten. What Baltimore fondly recalls of Mike Devereaux is his game-winning homer in the summer of 1989 during the Orioles' improbable pennant run

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By the All-Star break, those Birds seemed a team of destiny, a rag-tag bunch that could do no wrong. Devereaux proved that. On July 15, in a game fixed in the minds of Orioles' fans, the rookie slammed a walk-off, two-run homer that curled around the left-field foul pole at Memorial Stadium and gave the home team an 11-9 comeback victory over California.

If ever a moment defined a season, that was it. Devereaux's hit triggered celebrations among the 47,000 fans at Memorial Stadium and howls of protest from the Angels, who claimed the ball was foul. For days, TV showed replays of the homer. Fair or foul? Twenty years later, it's still the question most often asked of Devereaux when he returns to Baltimore.His answer? "Every time I check the record book, it says 'fair,'" said Devereaux, 46, of Woodstock, Ga. "I hit it hard and I watched it as long as I could. I knew it was close."

How close? Devereaux laughed. "Check the foul pole," he said of the marker, since moved to Camden Yards. "The scuff mark is probably still on it."

The '89 Orioles fell short of the playoffs, but Devereaux had earned his keep. For much of his seven years here, he owned center field, robbing hitters with crowd-pleasing catches. One night, he'd make an over-the-shoulder grab, circa Willie Mays. The next, he would leap over the fence to save a home run, then trot off the field nonchalantly.

"I was never one to showboat, to hold the ball in the air and scream, 'I got it! I got it!'" Devereaux said.

He carried the Orioles in 1992 with a team-leading 24 homers and 107 RBI while batting .520 with the bases loaded. An All-Star, he placed seventh in balloting for American League MVP.

"It all came together that year," he said. "I batted second and with Cal (Ripken) hitting behind me, I got all of those good pitches."

His black bat was Devereaux's trademark. Its color, he said, made his swing more difficult for rival outfielders to see.

Beaned by a pitch in 1994 – the ball cut his cheek nearly all the way through – he fell into a slump and lost favor with the club. A free agent, he signed with the Chicago White Sox but was dealt to Atlanta in time to help the Braves win the 1995 World Series. Clutch hits in the playoffs earned Devereaux the National League Championship Series MVP award. Re-signed by the Orioles, he played a subpar season, then moved on again and retired, grudgingly, two years later at age 35.

"I loved the game," he said. "I wish I could have been in it longer."

Divorced and the father of two, Devereaux lives near Atlanta and runs a private instructional baseball program for kids from 6 to 18. At 208 pounds, he's close to his playing weight and shows no ill effects from a lifetime of crashing into outfield walls.

"I'm still in one piece. I've been blessed," he said.

He may live in Dixie and wear a Braves' World Series ring, but Devereaux said he will never forget his Baltimore ties.

"The people were the greatest," he said. "They cheered me in the good times and booed me when they had to. Every time I come back there, the fans recall things that I don't even remember."

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At Camden Yards to sign autographs earlier this month, he took in a few Orioles games – against the Angels, no less – and was struck by the number of empty seats.

"I only played there when the place was sold out," Devereaux said. "It looks kind of

weird right now."

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