Denny Neagle couldn't quite explain his feelings last night as he stood in the clubhouse, wearing the uniform of the New York Yankees he once hated as a youngster and the same uniform all his friends and most of his family in nearby Gambrills still love to hate.
He is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball on the most famous team in the history of the game and he wanted to be completely happy. But something just didn't seem right.
Neagle couldn't completely hide his love for Baltimore, the Orioles, University of Maryland basketball, Len Bias, Arundel High and his high school baseball coach, Bernie Walter. His face lit up brightly and he talked at length about his life in the Baltimore area before he fulfilled his dream of becoming a major-league pitcher.
The new Yankees left-hander quoted Earl Weaver, said his role model was Scott McGregor, admitted he always dreamed of playing for the Orioles and gushed over the day that Bias walked by him at courtside at Cole Field House during a baseball recruiting trip to Maryland.
"I just said, 'Wow,' when Len Bias walked right by me," Neagle said. "They called him Superman. What a specimen! He was an incredible athlete.
"I'll never forget that day I saw him and the day my dad called to tell me Len Bias had died. I still love the Terps and whenever I'm in town, I still call the Maryland people and get tickets."
But now Neagle is famous and the media want to know where he will be pitching next season. Will he sign a long-term contract with the Yankees? Will he throw himself on the free-agent market in the winter? Would he consider coming home to Baltimore to finish out his career?
Neagle, 31, didn't say no to any of those possibilities. The closest thing to a commitment he gave last night was that he and the Yankees understand that he wants a four-year contract with a possible fifth year built in.
"That's between my agent [Barry Meister] and Brian Cashman [New York vice president and general manager]," Neagle said. "But I do believe I have similar value to a Chuck Finley [Cleveland] and a Brad Radke [Minnesota]."
That would place Neagle in the neighborhood of $8 million to $10 million a year, a comfortable niche for a man who believes longevity is his strong point. Enter Weaver and McGregor.
"Earl Weaver always said left-hand pitchers don't start peaking until they're 30 to 31 years old," Neagle said.
"McGregor was a perfect exam-ple of that. Scott was my rolemodel and I believe I'm something like he was. I don't throw that hard and it's no big deal if I lose my fastball. I'm a pitcher and I can use all the things I've always used to get by.
"It's not like being a Randy Johnson or a Pedro Martinez and having people start to talk if you lose two miles off your fastball."
Neagle pitched a four-hitter Sunday to beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 5-1, for career victory No. 100. It was his second straight impressive victory in two starts for the Yankees since being traded to New York July 12 from Cincinnati. Neagle won his last three starts for the Reds, is 10-2 overall and has won 16 of his last 18 decisions.
"I feel like I'm getting better every day and always learning something. I'm completely healthy and my shoulder feels great," he said.
"I'm glad I didn't have surgery and relied on exercises to build my arm up. It was the right decision. I know this is my last big contract coming up and I have to make sure I don't sell myself short."
In regard to possibly winding up in Baltimore, Neagle said there was always a possibility it could happen this winter on the free-agent market or later in his career.
"Everyone always has a dream as a kid of playing for your hometown team and that can never be completely wiped out," he said.
"But I do want to play for a team that has a chance to win every year and you have that right here in New York. There is so much pride on this team and in the city about the Yankees. I've found that out in the past couple of weeks."
Then Neagle left a crowd of reporters with a little joke about his status with the Yankees.
"If Mr. [George] Steinbrenner gives me access to his jet to fly home to Maryland anytime I want, I'll stay here."
Neagle laughed as he said it and reminded everyone with a smile, "Don't quote me on that."