FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -Not long after meeting Felix Pie and starting a working relationship the Orioles hope will turn the former can't-miss prospect into a quality major leaguer, Terry Crowley asked the former Chicago Cub to do him a favor.
Crowley gave Pie the phone numbers of David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada and Daniel Cabrera, and suggested the 24-year-old outfielder call his fellow Dominican countrymen, who know the Orioles' longtime hitting coach well.
"It wasn't so much, 'Ask about Crow as a hitting coach.' It was, 'Ask about Crow as a person. Is he going to stand by you during tough times or is he going to turn his back on you and walk away?' " Crowley said. "I encouraged him to call those people that know me from different walks of life. I know he's talked to them and now he knows a little bit about Terry Crowley the person."
Crowley worked with Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox slugger, when Ortiz was in Minnesota struggling to find his swing and a place in the Twins' lineup. He coached Tejada during four highly productive offensive years in Baltimore and counseled Cabrera at times during his erratic five-year tenure as an Oriole despite the fact that Cabrera was a pitcher. All three had a similar message for Pie.
"Before he gave me the number of David Ortiz, I saw David in the Dominican, and he told me: 'He's a great guy. Listen to him; he's going to help you a lot,' " Pie said. "Tejada told me the same thing. Daniel Cabrera told me, 'He's a hitting coach, but he could be like your father, too.' I've seen that already. I like the person he is. He talks to me about hitting. He talks to me about life. He's helping me learn more about the game. He gives me energy. It's been great. Not a lot of people can do that with the young guys."
The message Crowley and Orioles officials are sending to Pie is simple: The organization is fully behind him and will give him every opportunity to succeed. That's all Pie was looking for after he spent seven seasons in the Cubs' organization and got just 260 major league at-bats.
Out of options and opportunity in the Cubs' crowded outfield, Pie was traded to the Orioles in January for pitcher Garrett Olson and a minor leaguer. Pie is expected to get the majority of starts in left field once the season begins.
"I'm not trying to give him anything, but it's his spot to lose," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "That's how I look at it. It's up to him. I have a lot of patience. I think the thing that is maybe different here than in a lot of other places, we're still in the business of developing players."
That's where Crowley comes in. He and Pie have been almost inseparable since the outfielder reported to camp late after having passport issues in the Dominican Republic. It started for Crowley with getting to know Pie and gaining his trust. It continued with working on Pie's swing, which scouts say is far too long, and his approach, which is criticized for being undisciplined. Pie, who has speed and power, is a .299 career hitter in the minors but batted just .223 in limited opportunities the past two seasons with the Cubs.
"In the last 10 days or so here, I would not classify it as a long swing," Crowley said. "It's been shortening up. He's plenty quick, but we have to get him a little more balanced and slow everything down a little bit so he has a little better pitch recognition. He's coming along great. He's at the stage now where he has to actually learn a little more about hitting, and I'm pretty sure he would tell you that in the last 10 days or two weeks, he's learned more about what it takes to hit at this level."
Pie, who is also trying to make the transition from his natural position in center field to left, entered today's game against the St. Louis Cardinals hitting .259 and showing glimpses of the tools that made him such a highly touted prospect. In his start against the Red Sox on Saturday, Pie was 2-for-2 with a homer and three RBIs.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable," Pie said. "When I got traded, I said that this is like my new career. I've never had an opportunity like [the one] I have now. I know here, I'm going to play every day. All I have to do is play hard and do my job."
Pie's work ethic has impressed team officials. One day last week, he was in the batting cage by 8:30 a.m. He later took regular batting practice on the back field as Crowley stood behind him and offered encouragement and advice. When he was done, Crowley put his arm around the new Oriole, praised his batting-practice round and reminded him to "have fun" as Pie trotted out to the outfield to shag fly balls.
About an hour later, Pie started in the intrasquad game and got four at-bats but wasn't satisfied. He approached Crowley after the game and asked whether they could go back to the batting cage to get in some more swings.
"I think I'm going to learn a lot," Pie said. "This is the best thing for me. I think this is the best thing to happen."