Friday in Texas, the Baltimore Orioles will play their first postseason game in 15 years. The 2012 season has been one of rebirth for the franchise, a fresh start after 14 consecutive years with a losing record.
But there’s a link between the team’s current architect and a tormenter from Octobers past.
Yes, Jeffrey Maier played for Orioles general manager Dan Duquette.
Maier, as a 12-year-old New York Yankees fan, reached over the wall to catch Derek Jeter’s fly ball to the warning track in right field during Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. But umpire Rich Garcia allowed the play to stand as a home run, a controversial call that helped the Yankees win the series — and renew their dynasty.
Maier went on to star in baseball at Division III Wesleyan University, setting the school hits record in 2006. During his college career, Maier spent one summer playing for the Pittsfield (Mass.) Dukes of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. (The franchise was named after then-owner Duquette, known to friends as “The Duke.”)
“He loves baseball,” Duquette recalled of Maier, before his Orioles concluded the regular season Wednesday with a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay. “He wrote me an email (wanting to play for the team), and I saw the name. I said, ‘Jeffrey Maier?’ Then I put two and two together. I called him back and said, ‘You’re not THE Jeffrey Maier, right?’ He said, ‘As a matter of fact, I am.’
“I did some scouting on him, and they said he was a pretty decent ballplayer. So he came and played for us. He was doing pretty well, and then he got hurt. He was a center fielder. He could play. He liked baseball. He knew baseball.”
“And,” he added wryly, “we know he can catch in the outfield.”
Duquette was general manager of the Boston Red Sox — a division rival of both the Yankees and Orioles — at the time of the infamous Jeter/Maier play. “I thought the Orioles got a really tough deal on that,” Duquette said Wednesday.
Asked if one play — involving his future Pittsfield Dukes outfielder — might have changed the course of both the Yankees and Orioles franchises, Duquette said, “It’s hard to point to one event. You never know. . . . But justice has been served: The Orioles are now winning.”