BALTIMORE Baltimore Orioles rookie Matt Wieters has rock-star status among fans who have not seen their team have a winning season since Tiger Woods won his first golfing major.
The Orioles had 42,704 packed into Camden Yards to watch Wieters' big-league debut in late May, giving him a standing ovation as he walked to the plate for the first time in his career.
The night before, the Orioles drew a crowd of 11,937.
"I've been in baseball a long time and I've never seen a guy that's never been in the big leagues before come up to the plate and get a standing ovation just for standing in the batter's box," Baltimore manager Dave Trembley told Reuters.
The soft-spoken 23-year-old Wieters is just 51 games into his major league career and is hitting a pedestrian .269 with three home runs and 15 RBI.
But Trembley firmly believes the catcher who acquired the moniker 'God' in college and tore up the minor leagues will become the face of the franchise that has been losing since 1997, the year Woods donned his first green jacket as U.S. Masters champion.
"He has an opportunity to be a front-line catcher for a long time and be an offensive-type player," Trembley said of the 6-foot-5 (1.95-meter) Wieters, whose stature and ability has drawn comparisons to Minnesota All-Star catcher Joe Mauer.
"He's got the chance to be very, very, very good."
The learning curve is steep in the majors, especially as a catcher. If Wieters did not have enough pressure, he is in charge of calling games for the pitchers.
"It's a dream come true to be able to play in the big leagues," he said. "But it's also a lot of work. What I'm learning is that there are adjustments to be made every game, every at-bat, every pitch.
"There is something that you have to focus on all the time."
Opposing baserunners are having a good time with Wieters in learning mode, stealing on 36 of 44 attempts from the South Carolina rookie.
But Trembley, whose team is 47-67 and resides in the cellar of the American League East, is amazed how well he has handled the pressure of being one of the most hyped rookies in years.
"He's always shown for me a sense of calmness," Trembley said. "He looks like he's been here before. He's unfazed by all of it. It's not that he's not aware of it, he understands it, he expected it.
"It's just that I'm not quite sure he expected the magnitude of it."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)