In October of his junior year at Providence College, Keith Reed and his teammates were informed that they were members of the school's final baseball team. The following spring, they were on a mission.
"We could have easily given up," said the Delmarva Shorebirds' outfielder. "But we played every game like it was our last. We didn't want to give it up. And we won the Big East championship."
It was the signature season for the native of Yarmouth Port, Mass. He was the conference's Player of the Year and a second team All-American after batting .398 with 17 home runs and a school-record 79 RBIs while leading the Friars into the NCAA tournament.
His performance caught the attention of major-league baseball and when the 1999 summer draft arrived, the Orioles made Reed the 23rd player selected.
Now, he has begun another mission - to get to the major leagues. After starting extremely slowly last summer, he batted .309 over his final 38 games, a trend that has carried over into his sophomore season. He has reached base in 91 of his past 98 games and leads the team in home runs, doubles and RBIs. He also has 20 steals.
"He has made tremendous progress," said Delmarva manager Joe Ferguson. "Keith is starting to find out what his real ability is and how to use it. But he's still scratching the surface. This is a potential five-tool player."
Only 21, Reed has a rangy body (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) that is reminiscent of that of a basketball shooting guard or small forward. He was, in fact, a center on his high school team, but after his junior season, decided to devote 100 percent of his energies to baseball.
"I knew I wasn't going to be a 6-4 center," he said. "Division II basketball schools called me, but Providence was the only school that recruited me for baseball."
Ferguson said Reed lacks only experience. The outfielder is blessed with exceptional speed and good base-running instincts, has a strong arm that is uncannily accurate for a young player and projects to be a 25-home run producer with a solid batting average.
"In time, he can be an excellent outfielder," said the manager. "He still glides to the ball and he has to improve his brakes. But he assimilates things well; he wants to make changes, and that's why he's getting better."
Reed also is "beginning to understand that you have to have a plan when you go to the plate" and is learning to hit the opposite way.
"I'm just real comfortable now," said Reed. "I started slow last year because it took a while to get used to things. I know the ropes."
Reed said he is still fooled by off-speed pitches occasionally and that he tends to rush throws from the outfield because of his fondness for tossing out runners. But he is making Providence proud.
"I went back there and hung out at the end of last season. The batting cage is still there, " he said wistfully. "Baseball was the oldest sport at the school and we were all talking about the tradition."
A tradition he climaxed with aplomb.
Karim Garcia, acquired from the Detroit organization last Monday for future considerations, made an immediate impact with the Red Wings, homering on the first pitch he saw, then homering again in his second game. The outfielder had hit six homers against Rochester while playing for Toledo. He is second in the International League with 17. ... The Red Wings went on their first real tear of the season, winning nine of 11 games and four straight to climb close to .500. ... Josh Towers, who missed two starts, returned from a sore shoulder to pitch four scoreless innings. He is among the league leaders in strikeouts (59), ERA (2.86) and walk ratio (14 in 69 1/3 innings). ... Sean Maloney, who was almost unhittable at Bowie, continued to dazzle. He retired the first 21 batters he faced, nine via strikeouts. His brother, Mike, is the Red Wings' team doctor. ... Ryan Minor had six home runs in 10 games and rose to a team-leading total of 11. ... Javier de la Hoya is unbeaten at Frontier Field (6-0) and 20-5 over two seasons with Rochester and Bowie. ... B. J. Ryan did not allow a run in his first three innings. ... Ryan Kohlmeier allowed two runs over 14 2/3 innings, pitching to a 1.23 ERA and striking out 21. ... Howie Clark raised his average from .184 on May 16 to .287 while striking out just twice in 72 at-bats. ... Calvin Pickering continues to struggle and may cede some playing time at first base to Tommy Davis, who batted .404 during a 12-game span.
The Baysox dropped as low as fourth place in their division after a grueling road schedule and their failures at home. They went 25 days without a win at Prince George's Stadium, losing six straight in their own park. Part of the problem was the offense. The Baysox were hitting .294 in enemy stadiums and only .242 at home, where their record was 13-16. ... Before joining the Orioles, Luis Matos warmed up at the plate after moving into the No. 2 slot in the batting order. During a seven-game stretch, he went 13-for-27 with three three-RBI games. Matos was typical of the lineup. At one point, he was batting .357 in away games and .160 at home. ... Rick Short laced seven doubles in eight games to bring his total to 18 this season. He remained among the Eastern League leaders in batting and RBIs. ... After joining the team from extended spring training, Chad Paronto pitched 11 scoreless innings and allowed just four hits. ... Matt Riley continued to struggle after two horrendous starts. He is now in the Bowie bullpen. ... Rick Bauer pitched to a 1.17 ERA in his first five starts, to a 7.16 figure in the next five.
Outfielder Larry Bigbie was added to the Carolina League All-Star team after an injury, joining four teammates on the Northern Division squad. Bigbie was a first-round draft choice last year. ... Just when they were about to clinch a first-half title, the Keys went into a slump, going nine games without a home run and 1-5 on their latest road trip. They entered the weekend with a magic number of two against Potomac. They were held to two runs or fewer six times over a nine-game span. ... Tom McGee ranks first in the league in throwing out opposing base runners, 17 of 41 (41 percent). ... Richard Paz, one of the all-stars, had a 10-game hitting streak and batted .417 over the first half of June. He had reached base in 54 of 57 games and continues to pace the league in on-base percentage. He is averaging nearly a walk a game. ... As usual, the Keys are battling Wilmington for the league's attendance crown. They trail by 450 fans a game.
Because of an injury and a reassignment, Willie Harris was added to the South Atlantic League All-Star team as a designated hitter. Harris tops the league in runs scored with 64. ... The Shorebirds are out of the first-half title race in their division after a four-game losing streak. ... The team ERA skied to 3.86 and seventh in the league. ... Erik Bedard has been the most effective pitcher after leaving the bullpen. He soared to sixth in the league with a 2.33 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 54 innings.
The Suns set season highs for runs in an inning (nine), hits in a game (20) and runners left on base (18) in a 15-7 victory over Augusta. It was a 3-hour, 32-minute marathon, the team's longest nine-inning game this season. ... Hagerstown has not been at .500 since May 19 when its record was 21-21. ... Shannon Carter batted .419 during a seven-game hitting streak, and Brandon Jackson hit .458 during a six-gamer.
After an eight-city trek, the Arsenal returned home from its longest trip of the season with a 9-15 record, dropping the team below .500 overall. Aberdeen was a distant second in the South Division behind Somerset (N.J.), which had a 14-game winning streak. ... Mike Wolff hammered the franchise's first grand slam in Bridgeport (Conn.) to win a game in the final inning. The same night, he stole his first base. ... Bridgeport's Al Sontag nearly threw the first no-hitter ever against Aberdeen until Danny Perez broke up the bid with a one-out single in the ninth. ... The Arsenal surrendered the Atlantic League team batting lead to Somerset by a point.