Orioles pitching prospect Chorye Spoone has never had to search for a reason to push himself.
His mother worked three or four jobs to keep Spoone and his brother fed and clothed. So even in high school, when he was a portly kid with an unremarkable fastball, he knew he had to reach the big leagues to give her a better life. That's why he worked every day of junior college to get in better shape. It's why he gets mad at himself now when he has a bad start that might keep him in the minors a little longer.
"That's one more day she'll have to work, and that just kills me," he said.
Spoone, 20, isn't the most ballyhooed pitcher in the Orioles' system. He isn't the hardest throwing or the closest to the majors. He's not even the most touted local product on his own team. That would be Brandon Erbe.
But Spoone, who was drafted in the eighth round last year out of CCBC-Catonsville, is having quite a season. The Pasadena native is 5-5 with a 2.95 ERA for Single-A Delmarva and has established himself as a prospect after a rough start to his professional career.
He first gained local acclaim as a starter and reliever at Northeast High School, where he went 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA and made All-County as a senior in 2003. He received some attention from professional scouts but wasn't drafted.
Spoone said he was a "short, fat kid at the time" and he knew that probably wouldn't be good enough for the big leagues. He couldn't bear the thought of not providing a better life for his mother.
So he resolved to become a new man. He enrolled in swimming classes, went to the gym every day and dieted. He eventually shaved more than 40 pounds and found that his velocity and command improved as his weight dropped.
Spoone hit 95 mph on the radar gun and showed a fine curve at Catonsville. He went 3-3 with a 3.29 ERA and pitched a no-hitter during the 2005 season.
The success didn't translate to his first pro experience. Spoone went 2-5 with an 8.03 ERA for Bluefield in the short-season Appalachian League. He allowed 40 base runners in 24 2/3 innings, though he did strike out 27.
"Basically, it was because I didn't want to face the fact that even though my fastball is 95 mph, I can't just blow it by everybody," he said. "These hitters are professionals for a reason. I've got to show them a little something else to throw them off."
Spoone generally pitched better in relief than as a starter for Bluefield. But the Orioles didn't hesitate to start him this season.
Walks remain his biggest problem. He has 51 in 76 1/3 innings and his 49:51 strikeout-to-walk ratio would make most prospect watchers blanch. On Friday night, he allowed only three hits in six innings but walked five and took a 3-0 loss.
He said he loses control when he gets tired and his delivery drifts off-center. But Spoone loves pitching in the Orioles' system. Family and friends watch all of his home starts.
"I grew up watching them, and I love them to death," he said of the organization. "It's fantastic being here."
3 up, 3 down
Kieron Pope -- He is batting .396 with 10 RBIs for short-season Bluefield.
Joshua Potter -- Reliever is having a superb season for Single-A Delmarva with a 1.91 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings.
Christopher Vinyard -- The first baseman's .435 average leads all Single-A Aberdeen regulars by more than 100 points and he has more than three times as many RBIs as any teammate.
Eli Whiteside -- Solid defensive catcher has struggled all season at the plate with a .226 average for Triple-A Ottawa.
Rayner Bautista -- Bautista is another defensive specialist who's hitting .227 with a .241 on-base percentage for Double-A Bowie.
Pedro Beato -- Supplemental first-round pick has allowed six runs, three hits and five walks in his first 3 1/3 innings for Aberdeen.
Bowie will host NBA star Allen Iverson's fourth annual celebrity softball game on Saturday night. Tickets are available.