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Orioles’ John Means faces former high school teammate in Royals outfielder Bubba Starling

During his boyhood in the Kansas City metro area, John Means and his friends often spent their evenings at Kauffman Stadium watching Royals teams that, much like the Orioles one he started for Monday night, weren’t always easy to watch.

“I just remember the Mike Sweeney, Joe Randa days,” the rookie left-hander said. “You were able to buy a $5 ticket and go to the front row because there weren’t so great back in the day. I just remember all my buddies buying the cheap tickets, tailgating, hanging out and just being able to watch right from behind the dugout.”

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He got to watch his favorite boyhood team from the mound Monday, facing former high school teammate Bubba Starling and the Royals in the opener of a three-game series at Camden Yards. Means held Starling hitless in two at-bats, inducing a groundout to second and striking him out on a changeup, while not allowing hit until the Royals’ three-run sixth in a 5-4 loss.

Starling, the Royals’ fifth overall selection in 2011, is the highest draft pick in the history of Gardner-Edgerton, the small Kansas high school he and Means attended. But Means, selected in the 46th round by the Atlanta Braves that year in what he figures was simply the result of scouts being at their games to see Starling, was the first Gardner-Edgerton product to reach the majors. Earlier this summer, he became the school’s first All-Star, posting a 2.50 first-half ERA after his journey through junior college, Division I and every rung of the Orioles’ minor league ladder.

“Two guys from the same high school in small-town Kansas, you don’t see that very often,” Means said.

The duo once made up the top two in Gardner-Edgerton’s rotation. When their coach, Jerald Van Rheen, constructed his lineups, it was practically a requirement that Means batted third behind Starling.

“That was the only way Bubba was ever gonna get any pitches to hit,” Van Rheen said. “If John wasn't behind Bubba, then Bubba would've been walked all year."

Means’ hitting days ended during his time at Fort Scott Community College, where he spent a year before heading to West Virginia University. The Orioles took him in the 11th round of the 2014 draft. Starling, meanwhile, was heralded as a top prospect before hitting .222 over a three-year span and missing most of 2018 with injuries. He earned his first major league promotion in mid-July, not making his debut until Means had already made an All-Star team.

“I always knew he had it in him,” Starling said. “Obviously, I went my route, and he went his. I’ve always supported what he’s done. It was just great to see him take that next step and obviously get drafted, but make it up here and have a good impression.”

With a prior commitment Monday night, Van Rheen instead recorded the game. He figured watching it would be his first task upon returning home, prideful of the example his former players showed in diverging paths reaching the same point.

“It goes to show you, obviously, you don’t have to be a first-round draft pick to make it, that if you just keep working hard, somebody’s going to notice you at some point,” Van Rheen said. “It’s a testament to John’s fortitude to keep working and keep getting better, and I think with Bubba being a No. 1 draft pick, it’s a credit to his stick-to-it-iveness to not give up and keep working and finally get the call.

“I'm so happy for both of 'em.”

Sisco ‘just sore’

Catcher Chance Sisco wasn’t in the Orioles lineup Monday, but was available after doctors cleared him to play following a foul ball to the groin forced him out of the game Sunday in Boston.

“He’s just sore,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Obviously, he had a tough inning. A doctor saw him after the game and a doctor saw him again today, and cleared him to play. We’ve got good news.”

Sisco took part in full pregame workouts, avoiding an injured list stint that would have put him alongside former Orioles catchers Caleb Joseph (2016) and Welington Castillo (2017) as having missed significant time from a foul ball to the groin.

Even so, he has the sympathy of his manager, a former catcher himself.

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“Been there,” Hyde said. “Really sucks, no doubt. It’s really awful to watch somebody go through that, and it’s not even funny. It’s funny after the fact, but it’s not funny at the time. It hurts like crazy, and he was in so much pain, it was just awful. For him to be OK today, I was expecting the worst and just from what he was like when he was out there, for him to be OK obviously is great news for us.”

Around the horn

Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. (calf) joined Triple-A Norfolk on a rehab assignment Monday, and is expected to play the outfield Tuesday after debuting as the designated hitter. … Right-hander Michael Baumann earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors after a complete game shutout Thursday for Double-A Bowie. It was Baumann’s second nine-inning outing in 10 games since joining the Baysox, with the second being his no-hitter July 16. ... The Orioles’ spring training games will begin on Feb. 22, with the first of 16 home games a day later at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida. The spring training schedule features six weekend home dates, including Sunday visits from the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Pitchers and catchers are set to report to camp on Feb. 11, with the rest of the team due in Sarasota on Feb. 16. ... Triple-A Norfolk announced right-handers Josh Lucas and Matt Wotherspoon, who pitched in a combined 11 games for the Orioles, were released.

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