Ronnie Deck pulls an Orioles jersey over his head and straps on his shin guards every afternoon.

He is always one of the first guys on the field at Camden Yards. He knows Kevin Millwood's slider, David Hernandez's heater and Brian Matusz's off-speed stuff. He gets heckled by opposing fans just like anyone else.


Inside the clubhouse, Deck's efforts don't go unnoticed. The Orioles see the contributions of their generous bullpen catcher, his 10-hour days at the ballpark, how he works his tail off behind the scenes.

"A lot of people say this is a job they'd love to have, but it's a blue-collar job," said Deck, sweat glistening in his short, curly black hair, after playing catch with pitcher Brad Bergesen. "I come here to sweat every day."

Deck's day at the office is more than serving as a backstop for relievers getting their million-dollar arms loose. "We're out there on the road with the sun beating down on us, getting called every name in the book by classy fans in certain cities, so we have a bond," said the 34-year-old.

Much of the bullpen catcher's work comes when players are getting their minds and bodies ready before the first pitch. "Ronnie is as good as they come at doing the job he does," said starter Jeremy Guthrie.

Deck {b cover design by Aubrey Fornwalt} tosses the ball around with pitchers and gives them quality feedback on their deliveries and the movement of their pitches. He throws pitches during batting practice and helps hitters in the cage.

He makes everyone's job easier — especially catchers Matt Wieters and Craig Tatum.

"Wheeew! He's always doing something to help somebody and he's always happy, always in a good mood," Tatum said. "He's always like 'No, I got it, I got it,' so you have to just step in there or he'd catch them all [before the game]."

Deck is at the intersection of staff, coach and player. He's listed as a staff member on the team's website, but Tatum said he looks at Deck as a coach and also as "just one of the guys."

"He wears a jersey, so he's one of us, one of the players," Hernandez, a reliever, said. "He plays a huge part in getting us ready for critical situations."

A meandering journey
Deck's road to Camden Yards wasn't quite what he expected — but through persistence and a Single-A work ethic, he got there nonetheless.

"It's probably the prototype trial-and-error career," he said. "I didn't have a fast track to professional baseball. … I feel like I have a lot to offer [the younger players] with my journey."

After college, Deck spent three years in independent leagues — teams without affiliations to major-league organizations — before signing with the Tampa Bay organization prior to the 2002 season. Over two years, he played at five different levels in the Devil Rays' minor-league system. After two more years of independent baseball, Deck bailed on the dusty motels and his major-league hopes.

"I saw that the window was closing so I decided to get into coaching," he said.

Deck worked as a coach for a Div. III university in Atlanta, a junior college in Colorado and a Frontier League team in Illinois before getting a call in 2007 from then Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who had received a recommendation from one of Deck's former managers.

"It just kind of happened out of nowhere," Deck said. "[Trembley] hooked me up with a job, and I'm grateful for that."


Who is that masked man?
Like many native Oklahomans, Deck, who hails from Lawton, has always rooted for the University of Oklahoma football team. "To say I'm a Sooners fan is an understatement," he said. "I'm probably a Sooners idiot."

A diehard college football fan, Deck said he "might have done something different" back in high school if he hadn't been so skinny. Though he would one day be 6 foot 3, 235 pounds, he instead focused solely on baseball in tenth grade. "I'm in the big leagues now, though, so it doesn't matter."

He plays fantasy football with Orioles such as Matt Albers, Ty Wigginton and Mark Hendrickson. Wigginton was the league's champion last season, but Deck took home the trophy two years ago. "He's still riding that wave," Hernandez said.

He appreciates his bond with the players, but professional responsibilities come first. He says "it's tough to watch the team struggle." All he can do is continue to support and assist the players.

"I come in and keep my mouth shut — unless there's a football discussion going on — and let the guys know I'm here to work and be available for whatever they need," Deck said.

'I try to fly under the radar'
Alone in public, Deck goes unnoticed. This story was his first media interview in his three years in Baltimore.

"I was like 'What?! Are you serious?'" said Deck, laughing it off. "'They must be looking for Wieters.'"

Like the rest of the Orioles, Deck is treated to the perks of a VIP lifestyle. First-rate dining. Four- and five-star hotels. No lines at the airport as the jet-setting Orioles head from city to city.

The biggest difference is the salary. Deck said he has a comfortable living (he lives in Ellicott City and is unmarried), but didn't want to elaborate. "I don't want to dwell on that," he said. "I just want to soak it in — these stadiums, the fans, the big-league food."

"He's as hard of a worker as there is on this team," said Guthrie, "and he's not even one of the 25 guys on the roster."

Deck's position in the organization comes with some uncertainty. The Orioles are searching for a new manager, and there is no guarantee the bullpen catcher will be retained after a regime change.

That's OK. Deck no longer worries about his future.

"This is an unreal opportunity," said Deck, pausing as he gazed at the Baltimore skyline from the Orioles dugout. "I just want to enjoy every day in the big leagues, work as hard as I can and let that take me where it may."

Matt Vensel is a content creator for b free daily. Contact him at matt@bthesite.com or twitter @mattvensel.