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After trade to Orioles, prospect Garrett Stallings on path to play at the ballparks he grew up going to

When new Orioles prospect Garrett Stallings was about 7 years old, around the same age he answered “pro baseball player” on a homework question asking what he wanted to be when he grew up, he went to his first game at a Major League Baseball stadium. He watched the Orioles play at Camden Yards.

Stallings’ grandfather was originally from Baltimore, and Stallings grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, not far from where the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate since 2007, play. Last week, Stallings joined the organization as one of two pitching prospects acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for shortstop José Iglesias, putting him on a path to soon call Norfolk’s Harbor Park Stadium and Camden Yards home.

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“Being a little kid, I couldn’t believe how fast those pitchers were throwing, and it almost looked like a different game” Stallings said on a video conference call Tuesday. “To be back in this organization and getting the chance to play there myself is a dream come true.”

After Stallings posted a 3.33 ERA in 16 starts in his junior year at the University of Tennessee, the Angels drafted him in 2019′s fifth round. Within their next three picks, they drafted two other right-handers in Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich who are also now part of the Orioles organization, coming to Baltimore in last year’s Dylan Bundy trade.

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None of the three ever threw a pitch for an Angels minor league affiliate. Los Angeles’ standard practice with most pitchers is to avoid adding to their inning counts, already high from their amateur seasons, in the summer following the draft. The coronavirus pandemic cancelling the 2020 minor league season also kept Stallings from making his pro debut this year, though he did participate at the Angels’ alternate site and instructional camp, the latter of which Orioles scouts were able to attend and watch him throw.

Like Stallings, Peek is a Virginia native. Both he and Brnovich have been in contact with Stallings, helping him get to know his new organization.

“We were together for all of that first year,” Stallings said. “I was sad to see him get traded, but fortunately, I get to join him again in a new atmosphere.”

Although the combination of the Angels’ and the virus’ shutdowns meant Stallings went more than a year without facing live batters, he said he understood Los Angeles’ approach. The time off, he said, allowed him to focus on development rather than competing.

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When he last sought self-improvement, it brought hefty benefits. In his first two years at Tennessee, Stallings struck out 76 batters in 148⅔ innings. He then tweaked his delivery to add velocity and reworked a curveball into his repertoire. Over 102⅔ innings as a junior, he recorded 106 strikeouts.

“I kind of had a hard look at myself in the mirror after my sophomore season,” Stallings said. “I just knew I needed to change something if I wanted to continue to have success and continue to play the game at a high level.

“I attribute it to just knowing I needed to change, and I went out and changed it.”

The improvement captured the Orioles’ interest. They targeted him in the 2019 draft, then kept an eye on him after they missed out. In Stallings, they’ve added not only a pitcher who adds more talent to their budding farm system, but also a person who has a reputation for hard work and community involvement.

Stallings was the Southeastern Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year for baseball his junior season and also went on a humanitarian trip to Ecuador as part of Tennessee’s VOLeaders Academy program.

With hopes of soon playing in the ballparks he grew up going to in Norfolk and Baltimore, Stallings wants to make the same impact on young fans that the players he watched did on him.

“Baseball’s just what I do, not who I am,” Stallings said. “Playing baseball’s opened a lot of doors for me, allowing myself to impact the community. I’ve just taken pride in being the best person I can be on and off the field. If I can give a little kid a pitching lesson or sign a ball — I’ve kept some of my old jerseys to hopefully one day give out to some fans — just have more of an impact, I’m gonna take it because I was a little kid one time, going to Norfolk, wanting an autograph or asking someone to take a picture, and I know the impact it can make because I’ve been there myself. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing and I think I’ll continue to do it my entire life.”

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