PORTLAND — The temperature reached into the 90s and the pool water at his parents’ home looked inviting, so Ryan Flaherty dove in. Minutes later, younger brother Regan joined him in a game of pool basketball.
This is how Ryan Flaherty spent the All-Star break. The Baltimore Orioles’ second-year second baseman returned home to Maine to relax.
“It’s just nice. I thought about doing a couple of different things over the break,” said Flaherty, a 2005 Deering High graduate and one of two Mainers currently playing in Major League Baseball. “But really I just wanted to come home and lay low and kind of just sit here for the whole day, get away from everything and just relax.
“The season’s nice but you’re going a million miles an hour for so long, sometimes it’s nice to just sit here and do nothing.”
When the Orioles’ season resumes Friday in Arlington, Texas, against the Rangers, Flaherty’s season of adjustments will continue. He started much of the first half of the season because of an injury to second baseman Brian Roberts. But Roberts is back in the lineup, and Flaherty — despite an eight-game hitting streak in which he hit four home runs just before the All-Star break — is back in a reserve role.
“Yeah, it’s different,” he said. “You’re trying to simulate game action as much as you can, so that you can stay in the game.”
That means arriving at the park early to take extra batting practice. It means taking early infield practice, taking more ground balls. He does much of the work with Mike Bordick, the former University of Maine player from Winterport who’s now a television analyst for the Orioles.
“He’s been a great resource,” said Flaherty, the son of USM baseball coach Ed Flaherty.
He watches the first five innings from the dugout, then goes into the indoor batting cage to stretch and hit, and study opposing relief pitchers to prepare for a possible pinch-hitting role.
Flaherty, now a solid 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, has great value to the Orioles, who are in third place in the AL East, 4 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. He is athletic and versatile, able to play all four infield positions, plus the outfield. And he’s a left-handed hitter.
Early in the year, however, he struggled. And maybe that was to be expected. As a rookie last year, teams didn’t have much information on him. This year?
“The second time around teams have more film on you, they’ve faced you before, more scouting reports,” he said. “So they make adjustments, kind of like you have to make adjustments offensively to what they’re doing to do.”
With Roberts injured to begin the season, Flaherty, who turns 27 on July 27, had his chance to start at second. But he was hitless in his first 17 at-bats and struggled at the plate — something he had really never done in his life, whether in high school, college or in the minors.
He was hitting just .133 when the Orioles sent him to the minors May 18. He played for Triple-A Norfolk for 10 days, batted .265 with a couple home runs, and was recalled by Baltimore. Since then he’s been a different hitter, with a .300 average in his last 29 games.
“When Roberts went down, I came out and had a chance to play every day this year and I think you try to do too much, every at-bat you’re going up there trying to win the game for the team,” he said.
Going back to Triple-A, he said, was “actually the best thing that happened to me.” He’s become more patient and isn’t swinging at breaking balls in the dirt any more.
Mike D’Andrea, Flaherty’s high school coach at Deering, isn’t surprised at how Flaherty responded.
“This is Major League Baseball,” said D’Andrea, who played in the Atlanta Braves’ organization. “It isn’t college. It isn’t Legion. It isn’t high school. This is Major League Baseball and it’s OK to get into a slump.
“When I hear people say Ryan can’t hit, I just laugh. That’s the one thing he can do.”
Flaherty also knows how to win. He won two Class A baseball championships at Deering, along with a football title. He played on an American Legion national championship team — Nova Seafood. He spent three years with one of the nation’s top college programs — Vanderbilt.
Flaherty said his time growing up in Portland, especially playing for D’Andrea, “taught me how to compete, taught me how to win.”
Flaherty and South Portland’s Charlie Furbush, a relief pitcher with the Seattle Mariners, are the only two Mainers in the majors. For a while, there were three when Flaherty’s Deering and Nova teammate Ryan Reid, a relief pitcher, was called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It was pretty special to have him up in the majors, too,” said Flaherty. “And there’s not a guy who was more deserving. He worked hard for this.”
Reid was sent back to Triple-A on July 7 despite pitching well for the Pirates, with a 1.64 earned run average and one save in seven games.
“A shot like that doesn’t happen overnight,” said D’Andrea. “It’s about continued success at every level he’s played at.”
Flaherty and Reid, said D’Andrea, have earned their spots by continuing to push themselves.
“Truthfully, there are a lot of players who can go out and hit and throw and perform, but can they do it when it counts?” asked D’Andrea. “Can they do it in big games? Day-in, day-out through a long season? Can they will their teammates to do that? That’s what those two did.
“They’re special people and special players and we’re all fortunate to have been part of their careers at any point.”
Flaherty spoke to Reid after he got sent down and tries to keep in touch with many of his Portland friends. He also speaks to his father frequently, though the conversations these days tend to be more of the personal nature and less about baseball.
“We may talk about a game,” said Ed Flaherty. “But I never tell him what he should be doing. That’s what his coaches are for. I don’t coach at the major league level.”
Like any parent, Ed Flaherty wants to see his son succeed. Being a baseball coach, he also knows how hard that is.
“The one thing I’ve said to Ryan is that you don’t want to be in the pack,” said Ed Flaherty. “You want to be like (21-year-old all-star third baseman) Manny Machado. You want it so that there is no indecision as to whether you’re going to be in the lineup or not.”
Flaherty knows what it will take to get to that level. After all, being from Maine, he’s had to prove himself at every level.
“When I was growing up, I’d tell my teachers and parents that I wanted to play Major League Baseball and they’d tell me to go for it but be realistic, moreso than the kids from California or Texas,” he said. “Being from Maine you have to outwork everyone. The resources here are sometimes limited and the weather restricts everything. So you have to put the extra time in.”