When Ed Flaherty said goodbye to his son Tuesday, he didn’t see any difference in the second of his three children. Ryan Flaherty has the same lanky build that could use more home cooking. Same calm demeanor.
But the father did notice one thing about the 26-year-old major league baseball player who spent the past eight days visiting in the family house in Portland. “You can tell he knows he belongs,” said Ed Flaherty, who was talking about a career, not a home.
Ryan Flaherty returned to Baltimore to a condo rented from a former Orioles outfielder and current team instructor, Brady Anderson. His plan was to pack and drive to Nashville, Tenn., where he shares an apartment with Pedro Alvarez, a former Vanderbilt University teammate and current first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And then? “I’m not totally sure,” said Ryan Flaherty. “The team will decide if I do a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas playing ball (perhaps in the Dominican Republic). If the Orioles want me to work on something, they’ll find the right team.”
It doesn’t matter to him. Vanderbilt built a locker room for the pro players who played for the Commodores. Flaherty could spend more time working out there. He won’t rethink too much of what happened in parts of September and October, when his bat came alive and the Orioles made their improbable run to the postseason.
“It was a fun summer. Pretty crazy. Back in spring training you didn’t know. (Playing in the postseason) was the furthest thing from our minds. We were just trying to get through each month.
“When the season started, (Camden Yards) was a quarter full. By the end of September it was packed.”
See for yourself. Click here to see video clips of Flaherty playing, including a clip of his first major league home run May 10. The bleachers in Camden Yards were virtually empty. On Sept. 28 against the Red Sox, Flaherty hit his first major league grand slam in front of a full house. Orioles fans danced in the aisles.
By this time Flaherty was in a platoon with Robert Andino at second base, playing when right-handed opposing pitchers were on the mound. That got him the start against Yu Darvish when Baltimore flew to Texas for the one-game wildcard playoff.
Flaherty struck out in his first at-bat, then drove the ball into the wind for an outfield out in his second at-bat. He went the opposite way, singling to left in his third. The compacted progression that began with the swinging strikeout was revealing. Flaherty belongs in the big leagues.
“It was my first at-bat in the postseason and it was the loudest stadium I’ve ever been in. All those white towels waving. I didn’t have much background on (Darvish). I remember Jim Thome telling me before the game that the problem in the playoffs is everyone wants to win the game.
“After that first at-bat, Brady Anderson called me into the tunnel area, reminding me that I’ve got to see the ball and slow the game.”
Soon after the Orioles lost to the New York Yankees in the deciding Game 5 of the American League division series, Flaherty returned to Maine for a visit. He hung out with Andrew Giobbi and Josh Stowell, and other friends and former Deering High teammates.
He went out to dinner a couple of times with his mom and dad. Yes, he was recognized as the hometown boy who hit the home run at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs.
But to many of the diners at Bruno’s, the Flaherty’s neighborhood restaurant in Portland, Ryan was the same kid who hit home runs for Deering High.
“He’s a tall kid (6-foot-3) so he stands out that way,” said Ed Flaherty, the longtime baseball coach at the University of Southern Maine. “You know how it is.”
I know a father and a family who wouldn’t dream of blowing their own horns or beating their own drums.
Ed Flaherty can’t really stand up and cheer, even if it is for his son. He couldn’t that night in Yankee Stadium in Game 3 when his son swung at a fastball from Hiroki Kuroda.
Debbie and Ed Flaherty had seats in the first deck behind third base with other family members of Orioles players. “I knew he hit it well but it was awful high,” said Ed Flaherty. “Then I saw fans starting to stand. I said to Debbie, ‘my God, that’s going out.’
“You get a numbness. I’m not a big cheering guy, as you know. My wife and I just looked at each other. The next thing I know, my cell phone is going off. In five minutes I probably got 25 text messages from my players.”
Ed Flaherty has watched the replays. He noticed his son’s deadpan expression as he ran around the bases. He must have noticed the bubblegum popping in his mouth.
In most of the Flaherty video highlight clips online, you can see the bubblegum after other home runs and fielding plays.
Has the kid from Deering High changed? Yes and no. It depends how you look at it. He’s a major league ballplayer.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]