On Friday, May 1, 2009, I went to a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays. This may be shocking to some, but despite playing in the same division and the recent propinquity in levels of talent on their respective rosters, the Orioles aren’t the biggest draw in Toronto.
While watching baseball in a stadium that’s less than half filled has its drawbacks, the ease with which one can upgrade their seats isn’t one of them. By the second inning of the game, my friends and I found ourselves less than a dozen rows from the field, sitting right in front of a family of four who had made the trip north from Maryland.
The patriarch and matriarch of the fold were relatively close to our age, and it being a Friday night with baseball in the air and ballpark beers in our stomachs, friendship was struck more easily than normal. Despite these agreeable terms, there was an element of bitterness in the young father that he didn’t bother trying to hide. It was like the last sketch on Saturday Night Live where the celebrity guest just gives up completely on pretending not to be reading from a cue card.
His entire demeanor explained one thing about him: he believed he had made a terrible mistake by marrying and conceiving so young, and this affected his outlook on everything. Jim Palmer was an obnoxious moron. Brian Roberts sucks. Nick Markakis will never amount to anything. They should’ve kept Erik Bedard.
As the innings rolled by and his children continued crawling all over him, he finally burst. His jaw, clenched with a resentment reserved for the unfulfilled, released as he pointed at his one daughter and asked us, “Do you know who her favorite player is?”
We shook our heads and he replied, “Felix Pie.”
At this time he turned to his daughter and chided, “You know who likes Felix Pie? No one likes Felix Pie. If Felix Pie has any children, they wouldn’t even like him.”
The family was forced to leave after the seventh inning when the Felix Pie fan got fussy and wouldn’t settle down, but I’ll never forget the look on his face as he exited. He managed to convey all of Vince Vaughn’s monologue about marriage from Old School in a single glance, but instilled in my mind was that, for this man, Felix Pie came to represent everything that was wrong with his life.
Sadly, at this point in his career, Pie might be grateful to represent anything at all to the lives of Orioles fans. Earlier this week he was designated for assignment by Baltimore before accepting a demotion to Triple A Norfolk. A best case scenario sees him signing a minor league contract this offseason and catching on somewhere as a fourth or (more likely) fifth outfielder, a coveted spot on a roster if ever there was one. Perhaps most surprising of all is that Pie, after parts of five seasons in the major leagues, is only 26 years old.
Things weren’t always as gloomy for Pie as they are right now. There was a time when Baseball Prospectus ranked him among the most promising prospects in the league. Having gone through the Corey Patterson school of player development with the Chicago Cubs, Pie played in his first Major League game at the age of 22.
From here, it becomes a story of opportunity missed. Pie spent most of 2007 yo-yoed between Triple A and the majors, never given the benefit of consistent at bats with the Cubs. After winning the starting center fielder’s job out of Spring Training in 2008 (while suffering an injury of which we do not speak), Chicago signed Reed Johnson as a platoon mate just before the season began. Then, less than two months into the season, the Cubs signed Jim Edmonds and demoted Pie to Iowa.
The following offseason, despite great minor league numbers and limited time at the major league level, Pie was acquired by Baltimore in an uncharacteristically shrewd move by Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail, shipping out Garret Olson and Henry Williamson in exchange. Despite a slow start, the 2009 season was Pie’s best, getting on base more than 32 percent of the time, hitting nine home runs, and putting up a .257 TAv, all while accumulating the most plate appearances of his career to that point. While the numbers aren’t staggering, it was an improvement over what he had shown in the past and a good sign for the future for a player who was still only 24 years old.
Then injury struck, and it struck hard. After being named the starting left fielder after a strong Spring Training in 2010, Pie missed most of the first three month of the season with shoulder problems. When he returned, a ghost of comparison’s past had stolen his job in the outfield as Corey Patterson took over regular duties in left. Again, Pie didn’t get the chance for consistent at-bats, and again, he struggled, barely getting on base 30 percent of the time.
Healthy once again, the 2011 Baltimore Orioles—a team clearly unable to contend in the American League East—should have been the ideal organization for a former top prospect who had never fulfilled his potential at the top level and had never really gotten a consistent opportunity to do so. Unfortunately for Pie—and possibly for the franchise itself—the Orioles decided to invest heavily in declining bats instead of seeing what they had. The acquisitions of Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee meant that Luke Scott would try his comedy routine in left field (before eventually giving way to Nolan Reimold after an injury) and push Pie to the bench.
In fairness to the Orioles, even when presented with the opportunity, Pie didn’t live up to what many once believed he would be capable of. With him passing through waivers and getting set to join Baltimore’s Triple A affiliate, however, it’s hard to escape the feeling that if his career had been handled differently, he might be a different baseball player today.
In a strange way, Felix Pie was a better representative of my Baltimore friend’s life than he could’ve imagined. After showing such great promise early on, decisions, luck, and circumstance conspired against him, and before he knew it, the life/career that he had imagined for himself wasn’t panning out. Instead, he was stuck in a situation he wanted no part of at far too young of an age.
It’s unlikely now that Pie will again get an opportunity to make good on the promise he once showed, let alone actually show that promise. While failing to live up to potential is not an uncommon phenomenon in baseball, it seems especially sad in Pie’s case because of the multiple missed opportunities.
After examining Pie’s career to date, I’m reminded of a passage from Hugh MacLennan’s The Watch That Ends the Night, mandatory reading for the literary inclined Canadian secondary schoolers:
There is no simple explanation for anything important any of us do, and … the human tragedy, or the human irony consists in the necessity of living with the consequences of actions performed under the pressure of compulsions so obscure we do not and cannot understand them.
This is the best explanation for Felix Pie’s .298 career OBP that I can find.
Dustin Parkes is the editor of The Score’s baseball blog, Getting Blanked.