THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, April 5, 1995 TAG: 9504050598 SECTION: SPORTS PAGE: C1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY TOM ROBINSON, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Long : 163 lines
It's been mostly unnecessary, when speaking of Norfolk Tides players from the recent past, to attach the condition catch them now, while you can. But that is the caveat that comes this season with at least two of them: Genuine articles named Bill Pulsipher and Rey Ordonez, who relish their station apart from the crowd and who could be gone to the big leagues before you know it.
They are different, all right, in background, and they are from the ranks of more modestly talented athletes. Yet Pulsipher, the lefthanded pitcher, and, Ordonez, the Cuban shortstop, share jaw-dropping baseball skills and a confidence in being unique.
It is a cocksureness that, from their bouncy strides to their cold competitiveness, creates a vision of special individuals who know what they are doing and where it will take them.
All Pulsipher, a brash 21-year-old, is projected to be by the New York Mets is a stalwart of their pitching staff for years upon years, as a starter or perhaps a closer.
Ordonez, a 23-year-old who defected two years ago, simply boasts reviews that all but warn current major league All-Star shortstops to abdicate upon his arrival.
They will start the season, though, with the Tides, in their usual places - the middle of the field, the center of the spotlight and the heart of their team's plans.
To most players, Triple-A means one step from the big leagues. To Pulsipher, it means a trip to the men's store.
``The only thing I'm not looking forward to is, you have to wear a sports coat on the airplane,'' Pulsipher says, referring to the organization's dress code. ``Guess I'm gonna have to do some shopping.''
Pulsipher isn't collars and lapels. He is T-shirts and baggies, stubble and earrings, 4-Runners and Seattle grunge.
``There are certain rules I stretch a bit, press the envelope or whatever,'' Pulsipher says. ``I don't like to shave too much. I wear two earrings. I don't wear them on the field, but everybody's afraid I'm gonna try.''
It's not an act. The man has personality and opinions. They're on his sleeve. For that he's been a darling of New York writers since spring training a year ago, and Pulsipher drew plenty of ink in the city this year for his negative views on playing beside replacement players.
That he can pitch like crazy further piques the curiosity and anticipation over this 6-foot-3, 185-pound Army brat.
Born at Fort Benning, Ga. - his younger brother was born at Fort Monroe in Hampton - Pulsipher lived in various places, including Germany, before his family settled in Clifton, Va. As a senior at Fairfax High School, Pulsipher was the All-Metropolitan D.C. Player of the Year as a pitcher and centerfielder.
The Mets selected him in the second round of the 1991 draft, but Pulsipher didn't sign until the day before he was to leave for college.
That college was Old Dominion.
``My dad wanted me to hold out as long as I could, and I did,'' Pulsipher says. ``But it was time for me to get going and start playing.''
Pulsipher began in rookie league in 1992 and played both low and high Class A ball in '93. He spent last season in Double-A and went 14-9 with a 3.22 earned-run average as Binghamton won the Eastern League title. His final start stood out from the others - a no-hitter against Harrisburg in the second game of the championship series.
Pulsipher pitched the most regular-season innings of anyone in the minor leagues (201), made the league's All-Star team and was selected by the managers as the league's third-best pitching prospect.
Then he heard Mets manager Dallas Green float the idea over the winter that Pulsipher, though he has never made a relief appearance as a pro, could be his closer as early as this season.
``What they've told me is my job is whatever the club needs right now,'' Pulsipher says. ``I feel with my mentality it could work both ways, but if I had to choose one, it would be a starter.''
That mentality works on him in many ways. It openly drives him toward perfection. It stokes his anger. It spawns his fierce intensity. It's forced him to mature enough to get along as a professional.
``I'm a very tough guy to please, in everything,'' says Pulsipher, who wears his cap low, he says, to focus on his target. ``I'm not really ever completely happy with too much. I'm a happy guy, don't get me wrong. I'm not a miserable person because I'm always striving for perfection. But when it comes to baseball, I don't know . . .''
Randy Niemann, Pulsipher's pitching coach last year, says, ``The competitiveness that comes out in him is something you wish you could instill in everybody. He is the ultimate competitor out there. Somebody said a while back that he doesn't just pitch to hitters, he stalks hitters. That's a very good description of how he pitches.''
Minor league director Steve Phillips is a regimented guy who has had his differences with Pulsipher.
``Believe me, we've had our share of meetings and conversations,'' Phillips says. ``He's come a long way. For the most part, he doesn't even skirt the line anymore with rules and policies. If something's out of line, you say something to him and he jumps right back in.
``He's a pretty smart kid. I think he has corralled (his emotion) quite a bit, though I think his intensity and the way he exhibits himself on the mound is part of why he's so successful.''
Other reasons are a heavy fastball that isn't daunting so much for its pure speed but its natural tail. It allows him to bore into both righthanded and lefthanded batters. He has a good curve, too, but the Mets say an important goal in Pulsipher's development this season is a changeup that must improve.
``He has to smooth the edges,'' Tides pitching coach Bob Apodaca says. ``It's not just having an idea, but executing that idea to be successful. That's the fun part. I'm going to get to see somebody grow up.''
Reynaldo Ordonez grew up in Havana and was one of his country's finest players when he scaled a fence on the University of Buffalo campus and announced that he was seeking political asylum.
That was in July 1993, when Ordonez was in Buffalo with the Cuban National Team for the World University Games. He left a wife and 1-year-old son in Havana.
Ordonez played briefly in the independent Northern League that summer. Then in October, after a tryout camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., for a few Cuban players in this country, Ordonez was made available in a special lottery. The Mets, by virtue of having the worst record in baseball that year, had 28 chances to get Ordonez, the prize of the lottery.
``Isn't that something? A lottery,'' says Chuck Hiller, a former infielder and the Mets' minor league advisor. ``I think he's got a chance to be one of the best shortstops in all of baseball.''
It took only 79 games for Ordonez to be voted the second-best prospect in the Class-A Florida State League last season. An aggressive swinger, Ordonez, 5-9 and 160 pounds, walked just 14 times but hit .309 for St. Lucie before he was moved to Double-A.
He batted .262 there and continued to dazzle with his glove, to the point that most Mets people flash a knowing smile and find it hard to contain themselves when asked about Ordonez.
``You haven't seen anything like it,'' Pulsipher says. ``He's got the most unbelievable set of hands on him, soft and quick. The ball's in and out of his glove before you know it.''
Says Phillips: ``Defensively, he's one of the most amazing players I've ever seen, and one of the most amazing our staff has ever seen. He can do things that other guys don't even think about in the field.''
Adds Tides coach Ron Washington: ``He's gonna make everybody on that infield better. That's what happens when you get a kid that can do the things he can do.''
Pulsipher again: ``He makes this one play, a little backhand where he slides down to one knee, backhands the ball and he's up throwing before you can snap your fingers.''
Hiller again: ``He can dive for a ball and get up so quick it's like he didn't even dive. He's truly fun. He's worth the price of admission just watching him play with that glove.''
Ordonez, an outgoing personality around the team, apparently eats up the praise. He understands English better than he can speak it, yet after he agreed to an interview for this article with an interpreter, he dodged it three times, once sneaking out a side door. But Felix Millan, a Mets minor league coach, says Ordonez basks in attention.
``He's always joking around,'' Millan says. ``He's always happy. He likes to be noticed.''
That carries onto the field, Millan says, where Ordonez fields with his glove unusually low and with an instinct incredibly high.
``Yes, he's flashy,'' Millan says. ``He's got a different style. I think he learned with the Cuban infielders over there to be flashy, but I don't care. If you can do everything good, keep being flashy. Yes sir.''
Stick with what works, in other words. Be yourself. Pulsipher and Ordonez don't need to be told twice. ILLUSTRATION: MARTIN SMITH-RODDEN/Staff color photos
The classy Cuban amazes veteran baseball men with his glove and
quick hands. And, he can hit.
This Army brat marches to the beat of a different drummer. He's a
heady competitor with a heavy fastball.