On the list of promising sights as the first full week of Orioles Spring Training commences, 71-year-old Mike Cuellar in an O's uniform instructing the lefthanded pitchers of today and tomorrow is right up there. No matter how far the team has fallen in the past decade-plus, it still has a rich and successful history to draw upon. Not only is the screwball-tossing southpaw sharing his knowledge and expertise with younger generations, but he is serving as a living bridge between the model franchise of the 1970s and the club that is now taking baby steps toward being a potential superpower in the 2010s.
Though you might expect that Cuellar has more to offer to the younger pitchers in camp, guys like Brian Matusz and Rich Hill, today it was 37-year-old Jamie Walker that spent the most time picking the Cuban's brain. Walker is a true rarity: a professional baseball player who is a student of the game's history. When he signed with the Orioles as a free agent two years ago, he apparently devoured a few books about the team's past. He was effusive in his praise of Cuellar and his storied career, and acknowledged that pitchers like him "set the foundation" for Walker and his contemporaries. He also expressed awe for the amazing durability of pitchers from that era, who often exceeded 300 innings and completed upwards of 20 starts per season.
It's really a breath of fresh air when the oldest pitcher in a team's camp (who is also one of the highest-paid), says something like, "I don't know it all." I'm not sure whether Walker is healthy and able to rebound from his miserable 2008 season, but I like his chances that much better with a 185-game winner offering suggestions for his release point and grip.