A year ago, Jerry Hairston was a Single-A shortstop getting noticed more for his bloodlines than his batting average. He had a father, uncle and grandfather who had played in the majors. He seemed a long way from adding another generation to the list.
As it turned out, Hairston managed to cut a few corners in the middle infield. He was switched to second base, moved up to Double-A and hit for a better average. And by September, he had made it to the big leagues.
By this time next season, he could be a fixture in the Orioles' lineup.
Hairston has given club officials lots to ponder over the winter. They've got a second baseman, Delino DeShields, with two years remaining on the free-agent contract he signed in December. But they've also got a younger, more inexpensive player who has shown he's ready to leave the minors behind for good.
"I really don't know what people are thinking or how they feel," said Hairston, 23.
Here's what they're seeing: Hairston twice has burst onto the scene after being called up from Triple-A Rochester this season. He started 24 of the 25 games he appeared in while DeShields was on the disabled list from June 22 to July 22, batting .277 with two homers and seven RBIs. And he went 9-for-24 in his first six games after being summoned again on Sept. 4 when rosters expanded.
Hairston cooled briefly, going hitless in 13 at-bats, but collected three hits in Tuesday's 13-6 win over Seattle to leave his average at .282 heading into tonight's game in Anaheim, where he's expected to start his 12th consecutive game. He hasn't committed an error.
"I think he's on a mission," said manager Ray Miller.
Motivation has come in many forms.
Hairston was bypassed for Jesse Garcia when the Orioles needed another utility infielder coming out of spring training. Garcia better fit the mold, also having played both second base and shortstop but being more steady -- and at times spectacular -- in the field. Hairston went to Rochester and struggled for two months before finding his swing and better results.
"I was disappointed, but Jesse deserved to make the team over me," Hairston said. "I was inconsistent defensively as well as offensively. I didn't really panic, but I was disappointed, and it took me awhile to get over that."
Deciding it was better for Hairston to continue playing every day, the Orioles returned him to Rochester when DeShields was activated. He was given instructions by Miller to avoid contacting a case of "big league-itis." And no sickly numbers this time, either.
No problem. Hairston batted .333 in 37 games, making the decision to recall him a no-brainer.
"When I got sent down in midseason, I did not want to have the same attitude. Not that I had a bad attitude after spring training, but I told myself, 'I am not going to get down. I'm going to play hard every night and try to get back up here as soon as possible,' " he said.
"As a young player, all I'm trying to do is play hard every night and earn the respect of these veterans. And anytime you play well and help your team win, you feel good. We've won eight in a row. When you're part of that, it's a big plus."
So is being slotted into one position. "They know I can play short, but now they've seen me at second base and I feel a lot more comfortable there," he said. "I'm learning a lot, and it doesn't hurt having Mike Bordick alongside me."
What about having DeShields in front of him?
"I really don't know what's going to happen. I can't control that," he said. "I'm just thankful that I'm getting an opportunity to play here, and other teams are looking at me, too. That's a big thing. But I'd love to be here. It's a great organization with tremendous fan support, a tremendous ballpark. I love being in Baltimore.
"I'm going to play my game. If I do that and take care of my business, things will work out."
Opponent: Anaheim Angels
Site: Edison International Field, Anaheim, Calif.
Time: 10: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (13-11, 4.83) vs. Angels' Jarrod Washburn (2-3, 6.19)
Orioles' record: 69-76 Extra innings: 7-4
At home: 39-34 Series wins: 16
On road: 30-42 Series losses: 27
On grass: 60-63 Vs. AL East: 12-27
On turf: 9-13 Vs. AL Central: 27-22
Day games: 21-25 Vs. AL West: 19-20
Night games: 48-51 Vs. NL: 11-7
Pub Date: 9/17/99