- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

BALTIMORE | The two-year wait is almost over for the Baltimore Orioles and their fans. Catcher Matt Wieters, the prized prospect of the organization and perhaps all of baseball, arrives Friday from Class AAA Norfolk and is slated to start immediately at Camden Yards against the Detroit Tigers.

Addressing the issue yet again, Orioles manager Dave Trembley was positively giddy.

“I know tomorrow, we open the clubhouse at 11,” he bubbled before Thursday night’s game against Detroit. “Brunch here for everybody? It’s gonna be like, you know, Duke madness out there, people gonna be out in tents. I’m gonna go out and buy pizzas for everybody and walk through tonight. We’re gonna have a pajama party out there tonight, waiting for Wieters to come in the parking lot. Gee whiz! Woo!”

Trembley was kidding - sort of. It’s been a while since this moribund team has seen anything like the hype and expectations surrounding Wieters, who turned 23 on May 21. Television and print, blogs and Web sites and any other medium dispensing news and opinion about the team is crackling with anticipation. The club is reporting a sizable increase in ticket sales. The word “savior” has been tossed around.

A bit much, perhaps?

“I think the hype is great for the game and great for people who care about the Orioles,” Trembley said. “I think that’s tremendous. It’s neat that there’s a resurgence. I think that’s great. But it all needs to be put in perspective. Just put it in perspective.

“I’m looking forward to having Matt Wieters, as I’m sure everybody else is. It’s another step in the right direction of the new Orioles and the blueprint that [team president] Andy MacPhail has put out there, and it’s just one more piece that we’re filling in. But I can understand the anticipation and the excitement that everybody has. As a manager, you don’t get these guys very often.”

A two-time All-American at Georgia Tech, Wieters was taken with the fifth pick in the 2007 draft. Some teams apparently were scared of taking the 6-foot-5, 230-pound switch hitter because of his agent, Scott Boras, who is known for asking for the moon - and often getting it. It was rumored that Boras was seeking an $11 million bonus. Just before the deadline for drafted players, Wieters signed for a franchise-record $6 million bonus.

Baseball America named Wieters its 2008 minor league player of the year and this year labeled him baseball’s No. 1 prospect. He has been compared to Minnesota Twins All-Star catcher Joe Mauer. In 39 games at Norfolk, Wieters batted .305 with five home runs and 30 RBI.

“I can’t wait to see what he can do,” Orioles fan Darrell Gray said. “He’s got nothing to prove in the minors.”

The Orioles’ catching duties have been handled by veterans Gregg Zaun and Chad Moeller, who were batting a combined .210 with two homers.

When asked what he expects from Wieters, Trembley said: “Put him in the lineup, let him play. He’ll let us know. That’s realistic. He’ll play. He’s here to play. Realistically, I don’t expect him to hit 1.000. I don’t expect him to be perfect. I expect him to just ease his way in.

“I think the most impressive thing about Matt is his presence, not his tools - his presence, the way he handles himself.”

Starting Friday night, he’ll have a lot of other things to handle.

• Bob Cohn can be reached at bcohn@washingtontimes.com.

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