How about Matt Wieters?!
The series winning grand slam was a big moment for Wieters, a player whom few outside of Baltimore would recognize. I was texting with a college friend who covers the Minnesota Twins because he’d caught the end of the game; we had an interesting conversation about Wieters and his impact compared to his Minnesota counterpart, Joe Mauer.
Back in March of 2010, Matt Wieters was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, his 6’5″ frame crouched on dugout steps and the phrase “The Perfect Catch” headlined across his shin guards. Of Wieters, SI’s Tom Verducci wrote:
“Highly drafted catchers who can hit and play defense come around less often than playoff games at Camden Yards–which is why Baltimore has built a suddenly promising future around Matt Wieters. No two ways about it: the Orioles are sitting on the most sought-after commodity in the game.”
Unlike their Russell Street counterpart Ravens, the Orioles don’t have a lot of talkers. There aren’t any videos of Adam Jones or Nick Markakis giving Ray Lewis-like inspirational speeches or doing some crazy dance as they come up to bat. Buck Showalter is guiding a team that plays hard, stays positive and keeps fighting to the last out. Without the benefit of a “big name” veteran in the rotation, the task of keeping the pitchers calm falls on the broad shoulders of the 26 year-old Wieters.
He got to the big leagues with a lot of hype in 2009, more than once nicknamed “Joe Mauer with Power”
(though he hasn’t yet topped the 28 homers that the Twins catcher slugged that season), and was supposed to carry a team that went 15 years without a playoff appearance. While his batting average will probably never approach the “insane for a catcher” .324 that Mauer has for his 10 years in the league, Wieters has captured the last two Gold Glove awards and, being four years younger than the 30 year old Mauer, he should have more chances to add to his mantle. He is also consistently praised by Orioles players and coaches for the way he handles the pitching staff and calls games.
The funny thing is, Baltimore fans may actually see Mauer more than they see Wieters; Mauer’s endorsement deals with Sony, Gatorade and Nike, as well as his model looks & national campaign with Head & Shoulders shampoo has kept him consistently in the public eye. Comparatively, when I tried to Google “Matt Wieters current endorsements,” nothing popped up. When sports pundits talk about the top American League catchers, however, the two names that roll off their tongues first are usually Wieters and Mauer.
I texted my friend my football version of “Mauer vs. Wieters”–Joe Flacco vs. Aaron Rodgers. Besides chastising me for using a Packer for this comparison, my friend actually said I had a good point! Rodgers is the flashier QB, big numbers, good looks and endorsement deals with State Farm (discount double check!), Wheaties, and Pizza Hut, among others. Joe Flacco also has big numbers, but his “low key” vibe doesn’t attract as much attention and his major endorsement deal is with…a gummy bear company!
Watching the highlights of Wieters hitting the game winning grand slam tonight and the celebration that it set off at home plate put into perspective how lucky the Orioles are to have a player like Wieters in their dugout. He’s not a talker, he doesn’t need to be in the spotlight, and his batting average may not always be the prettiest, but try to run on him or get caught snoozing on the base pass and he’ll gun you down faster than John Wayne. Catchers aren’t flashy, they don’t always hit for consistent power, but Matt Wieters is finding his own way to stand out at the plate while continuing his success behind it. In a way, Wieters (and Flacco) personify everything that is great about Baltimore, hardworking, passionate, nose to the grindstone kind of people. With Wieters just entering the prime of his career, the Orioles could be sitting pretty behind the plate for many years to come.