Kam Mickolio wasn’t one of the bigger names in last February’s six-player Eric Bedard deal, but the 24-year-old right-hander is hard to miss when he ambles out of the Orioles‘ bullpen. The native of Wolf Point, Montana-a hometown Mickolio shares with former Orioles outfielder John Lowenstein-is a mountain of a man at 6’9″ and 255 pounds. Size aside, he gets the attention of opposing hitters thanks to a mid-90s power sinker that he throws from a low three-quarters arm slot. An 18th-round pick by the Mariners in 2006 out of Utah Valley State, Mickolio began the 2008 season in Double-A before making his big-league debut in late August. Mickolio appeared in nine games for the Orioles, posting a record of 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA. Mickolio talked about the road from Montana to Maryland when the Orioles visited Fenway Park in September.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher, including your mechanics?
Kam Mickolio: From the beginning, my mechanics have been a little quirky, I guess: I’ve always thrown across my body and had a little lower arm angle. But, over the years, working on it, my arm angle has gotten up a little bit, maybe since college. I’ve always had the across-the-body motion, and for the most part have been effective against right-handed hitters because of it. It gives the appearance that I’m throwing right at them, kind of coming after them inside their box, and getting them off the plate a little bit. It’s effective, I guess, so I’ll try to stick with it. Some corrections have to be made though, because sometimes I have trouble getting to the left side of the plate.
DL: When you say corrections, are you referring primarily to your lower half?
KM: Yeah, lower half, definitely. I need to maybe get even straighter toward the plate to allow my arm angle, to allow me to throw to that side without having to try too hard and strain anything.
DL: Given your arm angle, do you approach left-handed hitters much differently than you do right-handed hitters?
KM: Not really, no. I mean, I’ll try to come inside. I’ll go sinkers away, sinkers away, and then hard in. But I guess it varies from one hitter to the next. Overall, I throw a fastball, sinker, slider, and change, though I don’t use my changeup too much; I’m mostly sinker/slider.
DL: You grew up in Montana. What is your baseball background prior to pitching at Utah Valley State?
KM: I’ve been in baseball since I was little; I played tee-ball at age six, or however young you get. I played all the way up through high school, although we didn’t have high school baseball-we didn’t have high schools competing against other high schools. I think that it’s only us and Wyoming as the only states that don’t have it; instead, we have American Legion.
DL: Did you have an opportunity to play any travel baseball?
KM: Yeah, there’s a fall league. There’s Big Sky Baseball, and we competed in what I think is called The Arizona Fall Classic. There are something like 50 teams there, and a lot of scouts. I don’t know if that had much impact for me, because I was still young and still growing. I think I was well under the radar back then.
DL: When did you first start drawing attention from scouts?
KM: I was drafted [after] my first year of college by the Cardinals, and I think that was the first time I ever thought I might get a chance to move forward, that I knew I was being watched by professional scouts.
DL: You came here from Seattle in the Erik Bedard deal. What was it like getting traded so early in your professional career?
KM: I wasn’t really expecting to be traded after my first year with the organization, after my first full season, so I guess that it came kind of as a surprise. I was about the fourth or fifth guy in the deal, and I don’t really know how many guys they wanted, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I had heard the talks all winter, but didn’t make much of it until maybe a week before the trade was actually finalized. There’s nothing you can do about it, anyway.
DL: How did you find out that you had been traded?
KM: I actually found out about being part of the deal from one of my buddies back home. He sent me a text, asking if I had been traded. I was like, “What?” It was a big surprise, because I had no idea. I don’t know how, but he was probably the first to know. That was probably the first time I ever heard that I was going to be traded. It’s always nice to have a firm foundation, and being around one place for awhile you get to know how things are run; you get to know the personnel and everybody. But, like they say, it’s part of the game.
DL: Is the pitching philosophy different here than it was in the Seattle organization?
KM: Not so much. Maybe in Seattle, they were really hard on guys going hard in, for effect. It was, ‘Try to get beat with your fastball before you get beat with your other stuff.’ It was kind of that philosophy. Here… well, it’s kind of hard to pick up just what it is here. I guess it’s the same in those regards, but they’ll let you pitch backwards, also.
DL: Chris Tillman is one of the players who came here with you from the Mariners system. Can you say a little about him?
KM: He’s very mature, pitching-wise, for his age. He knows the game well, because he’s been with a lot of talented players growing up; he definitely knows the field. He’s pretty well developed, and I think he’s got a chance to have a long career. He’s filthy out there.
DL: What was it like getting called up to the big leagues for the first time?
KM: I found out after one of our games at Norfolk. My manager called me into the office and said to get a haircut, clean up, and get out of here. It was a thrill. It was unreal, because it’s always been a dream. If you’re a baseball player, you always want to make it up here, so once someone tells you that you’re getting called up, it’s an amazing feeling. The first phone call I made was to my parents, the second to my brother, and the third to my agent. And nothing can prepare you for what you feel when you actually get here.
DL: What was it like walking into Camden Yards for the first time?
KM: I hadn’t been there, and it’s impressive; it’s a very nice facility. It’s a great clubhouse. Everything is tiptop, so it was awesome. I got right into a game the night I got there, too. That was actually great, because I didn’t really have time to think about it.
DL: What do you remember thinking when you stepped onto the mound?
KM: Just to try to throw strikes. I didn’t want to try to change anything; I wanted to just keep doing what I had been doing. Still, the first time I toed the rubber, I looked in at the plate and it looked like it was a hundred yards away. It was kind of a scary moment, where I thought, “This could be bad or good,” so I took my warm-up pitches as easy as I could. I wanted to make sure that I got a good feel.
DL: You made your debut against one of the best hitting teams in the game. Did that make the experience even more intimidating?
KM: Maybe just a little bit. Knowing that it was the Red Sox that we were playing-but it might have been the same no matter who we were playing. Everyone is a good hitter up here, so I probably would have had the same feeling against anybody.
DL: The first batter you faced was Jed Lowrie, and you struck him out. Is that the highlight of your baseball life thus far?
KM: I would have to say that maybe it is, yeah. I definitely didn’t expect to strike out the first hitter I faced in the big leagues. It was a pleasant surprise, that’s for sure. I think that my second game was even more intense than my first, though. That’s because of the situation I came into. I think we were down two, with runners on second and third, and there are a lot of big-game guys there on the Yankees. That was probably a little more intimidating than coming out against Boston.
DL: Those games were at home in Camden Yards. What is it like to be here at Fenway Park for the first time?
KM: It’s amazing. I mean, there’s the Ted Williams seat up there in right field. There’s a lot of history here. You see it on TV all the time, but you can’t really grasp what it’s actually like until you’re here in person. It’s a pretty impressive place.
DL: Getting back to your roots, what does it mean to you to be one of the few Montana-born players to make it to the big leagues?
KM: I think that there are something like 21 or 22 guys ever to have made it to the big leagues from Montana, so it does mean a lot. There are a lot of people watching back home. I try not to pay too much attention to that though, because I don’t want to let it get to me. But it happens everywhere for guys from small communities: everyone makes sure to watch.
DL: Is it fair to guess that more than a few people back home have switched their allegiance from the Mariners to the Orioles?
KM: I guess there could be. Family for sure; at least I hope. I actually did grow up rooting for the Mariners, because I used to see them on TV all the time. So it was a good thing to get drafted by them-a dream come true, I guess. Now the dream is here.
[Author’s note: Mickolio is the 21st player born in the state of Montana to reach the big leagues. Three others have played for the Orioles: Lowenstein, Dave McNally, and Jeff Ballard. Just three states have produced fewer big leaguers than Montana: Alaska (10), North Dakota (15), and Wyoming (12).]