In these parts, it's heresy to cast the New York Yankees in a positive light. Exceptions go to those associated with the Arundel High baseball program and its brightest star, two-time All-Star pitcher Denny Neagle.
Realized dreams would have the 31-year-old lefty coming home to play for the Orioles, within reach of friends and family. But for a group prideful enough of the school's baseball tradition to build a Web site as a monument to it (www.ArundelBaseball.com), Neagle's trade to the Yankees - from the Cincinnati Reds - is the next best thing.
"It's a great opportunity for Denny, an opportunity to play in another World Series," Arundel coach Bernie Walter said of Neagle, a pitcher with a 14-2 record and 3.14 ERA since last August who was on a Reds team that decided to break down now to build up for the future. "Cincinnati didn't look like it was going to make it, so this is a tremendous opportunity."
For Neagle's father, Denny Sr., yesterday was exhilarating. All day, his cell phone bleated and his beeper beeped, signaling inquiries from friends wanting to know what was happening. He ended up at Glory Days Grill in Germantown, downing chicken fingers and watching sports news reports on television.
On Monday, the elder Neagle will take his first train to see a baseball game since he took Denny Jr. to see the Dodgers play the Phillies in the National League Championship Series 20 years ago. This time, Denny Jr. will be on the mound in Yankee Stadium, pitching.
"I still pinch myself," he said. "I can't believe this is my son. Incredible stuff."
The Yankees travel to Baltimore for games July 24-26. Neagle couldn't be reached for comment, but his agent, Barry Meister, said Neagle is excited about the now-regular opportunities to play near his childhood home in Gambrills.
Neagle's first professional trip to Baltimore didn't go smoothly, with three bases-empty home runs marking a 1998 loss when he was with the Braves. Still, Meister said playing in front of familiar faces excited him.
"He's looking forward to pitching in front of friends and family," Meister said. "He's thrilled about that."
One former Wildcat who has traveled to see Neagle play is Monte Shrader. He watched him pitch in Cincinnati, Atlanta and Pittsburgh, where Neagle's career began 10 years ago.
When Neagle comes to town with the Yankees, Shrader doesn't expect him to have time to run around central Anne Arundel County with his old friends.
"I don't see him taking the players down to Kaufman's," Shrader said, referring to the crabcake mecca in Gambrills, "but I could be wrong."