SARASOTA, Fla. — Jason Hammel is always prepared for anything, even a fast switch from cactus to grapefruit trees.
Just one week prior to spring training, Hammel and teammate Matt Lindstrom found out they’d be packing their bags and heading for Sarasota to play for the Baltimore Orioles and open the season in the Grapefruit League.
The change was just like the fruit.
“It might be a little bitter sweet,” said Hammel, who played four seasons in Denver with the Colorado Rockies. “But at the same time, the Orioles have welcomed me with open arms.”
Hammel and Lindstrom were dealt to Baltimore in a straight-up deal for Orioles starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.
“I admit, it was in the back of my mind that I could get traded,” Hammel said. “But it’s a new venue and a new look. I see it as a fresh start.”
Hammel got the opportunity for his first start Thursday afternoon, donning an Orioles jersey at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, pitching two scoreless innings, allowing two hits, and walking one.
After throwing six straight pitches for balls, Hammel finally settled down, and his fastball topped out at 94 miles per hour on the gun.
Coincidentally, in his major-league debut on April 11, 2006, he pitched against Baltimore.
“It’s funny how things come full circle sometimes,” said Hammel, who struggled through much of last season, posting a 7-13 record with a 4.73 E.R.A.
Of course, playing in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the majors for three years (that’s Coors Field) never helps.
And when it comes to ballparks, luck doesn’t seem to be on Hammel’s side.
“Oriole at Camden Yards is probably the second or third most hitter-friendly ballpark in the league. So I sure just know how to pick ‘em,” laughed Hammel.
Now the right-hander will face the likes of American League East hitters such as Jose Bautista, Mark Teixeira, and Evan Longoria, just to name a few.
“There’s no question, the AL East is the one everyone talks about,” said Hammel. “The way I see it, big-league hitters are going to hit bad pitches. No matter how great those guys are, they still get out 7 of 10 times.”
Although the Orioles have struggled the past several years at the bottom of the division, they do have an element of wisdom on their side that should prove to be a great asset: manager Buck Showalter.
“I’m very impressed,” said Hammel.
“He has great humour. He’s definitely a player’s coach… [pauses]… also as a pitcher, I don’t have to shag under his reign,” laughed Hammel.
The 29-year old native of Greenville, South Carolina understands the Orioles may have awhile before they fully turn the corner. Baltimore has failed to reach the playoffs in 14 straight seasons.
But with baseball, as cliché as it sounds, says Hammel, “every year is a new year.”
There is one definitive fact about this year’s team.
“These guys are young!” said Hammel.
“It’s weird, I never thought I was going to be the old guy at 29,” he chuckled.
He also embraced the idea of a leadership role for the team.
“I definitely feel I have those qualities.”
While acknowledging that he will miss the Rockies organization, Hammel remained confident that he was ready to embark on the next chapter of his career.
“It’s definitely exciting.”