Orioles utility man entering rare territory

Orioles utility man entering rare territory

Gatorade Player of the Year

Orioles utility man entering rare territory

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Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 12,500 state and national winners in 12 sports.

Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach — a distinguished group, indeed.

This week, we're catching up with Ryan Flaherty.

Making the Major Leagues when you’re born in Maine is hard.

Maine professional ballplayers with awesome nicknames (Cannonball Titcomb? Live Oak Taylor? Chummy Gray?) were common around the late 1800s, but just 12 players born in the Pine Tree State have played in the majors since Gatorade first began handing out awards in 1985.

Ryan Flaherty, the 2004-05 Gatorade Maine Baseball Player of the Year, expects to be one of just two on Opening Day rosters this April.

While Portland native Charlie Furbush toils in the Seattle bullpen, Flaherty has likely earned a utility spot in Baltimore, playing all four infield positions, both corner outfield spots and — with this week’s injury to Wilson Betemit — designated hitter.

A Rule V acquisition by the Orioles last year, Flaherty was required to spend the entire 2012 season with the big club, where he played sparingly until late in the year. He hit .216 on the season with six home runs and 19 RBI and hit a home run off Hiroki Kuroda in the American League Division Series against the Yankees.

This spring, Flaherty is hitting .229 with three homers, four doubles and 10 RBI in 25 games, and he appears to have earned a roster spot on his own merit.

Flaherty won two state titles with Deering (Portland, Maine) High and led his American Legion team to a 2004 national championship prior to winning his Gatorade award. He hit .388 with 21 RBI as a senior.

Flaherty spent three years at Vanderbilt, where he was a Second Team All-American and authored a school-record 35-game hit streak before being selected by the Cubs as the 41st pick (first-round supplemental) of the 2008 Major League Baseball draft.

Just one season before Flaherty won his Gatorade award, pitcher Mark Rogers of Topsham’s Mt. Ararat High became the only Maine athlete to ever win a national Gatorade award in any sport.

A first-round pick (fifth overall) out of high school by the Milwaukee Brewers, Rogers has just 11 MLB appearances, as multiple shoulder surgeries have sidetracked him and sapped some speed from his one-time 100 MPH fastball.

He’ll start 2013 on the disabled list again, with shoulder instability, though he did give a glimpse of his promise at the end of 2012: A 3-1 record with a 3.92 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 39 innings.

Matt Kinney is the only other former Gatorade Maine Baseball Player of the Year (1995, out of Bangor High) to play in the Majors, pitching parts of five seasons with Minnesota, Milwaukee, Kansas City and San Francisco. He was 19-27 with a 5.29 ERA in his career.

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