Steve Clevenger, Steve Lombardozzi Excited To Play For Hometown Orioles

Posted on April 01, 2014 by Keith Mills

Steve Clevenger remembers his 2004 Mount St. Joseph baseball team well.

"Joe Romiti was the catcher," Clevenger said. "Mark Price played first. Chris Hildreth played second. I played short -- Kurt Hines at third, Matt Staso in left, Jeff Poff in center and Mike Bianca in right. Jimmy Drury was our ace, but he got hurt early in the season, so our pitching staff was Brad Miller, Kyle Timme and Dave Zappacosta. David Parks was our closer."

On March 29, Clevenger was sitting in front of his new locker inside the Orioles' clubhouse at Camden Yards. Heavy rain was falling outside, which canceled the team's scheduled workout, so Clevenger and his teammates were killing some time.

For Clevenger and former Atholton High standout Steve Lombardozzi, it was a chance to turn back the clock to their sandlot and high school days in the Baltimore area, while almost pinching themselves to make sure this was all happening. Nearly 24 hours later, they opened the 2014 MLB season as members of the hometown Baltimore Orioles. 

"It's exciting," Clevenger said. "To be from Baltimore and run down the orange carpet on Opening Day is something special."

Lombardozzi said he was excited about the opportunity to be in Baltimore, and it was an unbelievable feeling.

Neither Clevenger nor Lombardozzi played during the Orioles' season-opening 2-1 win against the Red Sox March 31, though both ran down the orange carpet during the pregame player introductions to loud ovations.

Steve Clevenger

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Clevenger spent part of his childhood in the Pigtown section of southwest Baltimore, a long Chris Davis home run from Oriole Park. He made the team as a backup catcher. 

"I take this very serious," said Clevenger, who will turn 28 April 5. "I want to show [manager Buck Showalter] I'm his guy. My goal is to win the World Series. It's a very special time."

Clevenger's parents are Steve Sr. and Donna. The two divorced when Clevenger was young. At the time, they lived in Glen Burnie. Now, Clevenger and his mom, sister and brother live in the Brooklyn Park section of northern Anne Arundel County. When Clevenger was 5, his mom took him to Carroll Park on Washington Boulevard, where he played T-ball, and first began to show the talent that has led him to professional baseball.

In 1992, he started playing in the Linthicum-Ferndale Youth Athletic Association Little League program, where he stayed before joining Dean Albany's Maryland Orioles program at the age of 12.

"All the coaches I had growing up," Clevenger said, "Charlie Manion, Barry Hopkins and Phil Bruzio at LF, Dean, Mike Krause, Dave Norton -- they all had a lot to do with me being here today."

Krausse ran the Maryland Cardinals amateur team out of Sykesville. After one year with the Cardinals, Clevenger returned to Albany's Maryland Orioles program in 2000, the same year he entered Mount St. Joe as a freshman.

Clevenger was the starting shortstop during Gavin Floyd's final year with the Gaels, which ended with Floyd and fellow Mount St. Joe alum Mark Teixeira going fourth and fifth during the first round of the 2001 MLB Draft.

By the spring of 2004, Clevenger was one of the state's premier players, coveted by pro scouts and college coaches who loved his left-handed hitting power, shotgun arm from shortstop and baseball IQ.

He was named The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro shortstop as a junior in 2003 and again as a senior in 2004, when the Gaels won the MIAA A Conference under coach Dave Norton.

Clevenger hit .500 his senior year with 32 runs scored, 32 RBIs and 15 doubles. He helped the Gaels win five straight playoff games, including two against Archbishop Spalding to win the school's first conference championship in 17 years. They finished the year 28-6.

"I felt my senior year, we had a good team, but I didn't think we were as strong as the teams before," said Clevenger, who attended Southeastern Louisiana University and Chipola Junior College in Florida before the Cubs selected him during the seventh round of the 2006 draft. "But we played together and really gelled at the right time and ended up winning the championship."

On the day Showalter told Clevenger he had made the Orioles, Steve Johnson was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. That meant for two days, there were three local players on the Orioles -- Clevenger, Johnson and Lombardozzi.

As a junior, Lombardozzi was selected to The Sun's second-team All-Metro and named the Howard County Player of the Year as he led Atholton to the state semifinals. As a senior in 2007, he earned All-Metro honors again after starring for the Raiders, coached then by Kevin Kelly. 

"There aren't many kids like Steve Lombardozzi," Kelly said in 2011, when Lombardozzi was in the Washington Nationals' minor league system. "He's a throwback. He's one of hardest-working kids I know. We'd be done practice at 5:30-6 o'clock, and he'd stay out there until 9 o'clock -- not just hitting or fielding, but on getting a jump, running the bases."

Steve is the son of Steve Lombardozzi Sr., who spent six years with the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, and was a member of the Twins' 1987 World Series champion team. He is now the varsity baseball coach at Good Counsel High School in Montgomery County. Steve Sr. coached his son on a variety of summer amateur teams, and has watched as his son went from Atholton to St. Petersburg College in Florida to a member of the Nationals and now the Orioles.

The Nationals selected Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg during the 19th round of the 2008 draft. He made his major league debut Sept. 6, 2011, and spent two full seasons with Nats as a utility infielder. He owns a .264 batting average in 705 major league at bats. Three months before Lombardozzi made his major league debut with the Nationals, Kelly retired from teaching and coaching at Atholton. 

"He's more than just a coach," Lombardozzi said. "I think of him as family. He's a very close friend -- just a good person. He always instilled work ethic. We were definitely one of the hardest-working teams. I value our friendship."

Lombardozzi seems to be savoring his first few days with the Orioles. The Orioles traded shortstop Alex Gonzalez to the Tigers for Lombardozzi Mach 24. Lombardozzi can play at second base, third base and shortstop as well as in the outfield, and he is 25 -- 12 years younger than Gonzalez, who is now filling in for the injured Jose Iglesias in Detroit.

Steve Lombardozzi

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

"Playing against [the Orioles] the last couple of years with the Nationals, they've got some guys who can obviously swing the bat," Lombardozzi said. "It's an exciting team. You look up and down their roster, there's some older guys, but also some younger guys that have a lot of talent. It's an exciting group, a fun group, and I'm excited to be a part of it."

Lombardozzi grew up in the Fulton section of southern Howard County, and he was a regular at Camden Yards as a kid when the Orioles were scuffling at the bottom of the American League East standings.

"I noticed a big change when I played here the last two years with the Nationals," Lombardozzi said. "The last seven or eight years I came here to watch games, I can't remember the crowds being real big -- not as big as they are now. Last couple of years we'd come here, the place was sold out. The atmosphere was unbelievable."

When the Orioles opened their season March 31 against the Red Sox before a sellout crowd of more than 46,000 fans, Lombardozzi, wearing his No. 12 jersey, was introduced before Clevenger, who will wear No. 45 for the Orioles.

As a student at St. Philip Neri School in Linthicum and then Brooklyn Park Middle School, Clevenger would often attend Opening Day at Camden Yards. That's when Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Bordick, Rafael Palmeiro, B.J. Surhoff, Eddie Murray, Roberto Alomar, Chris Hoiles, Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson formed the core of the Orioles' back-to-back playoff teams in 1996 and '97.

Clevenger said he had often skipped school, with his mother's permission, to go to Opening Day.

"Opening Day was big to me," Clevenger said, "and I came to a lot of them. Then I started playing at Mount St. Joe and couldn't come out. But when I was younger, I was always here."

And now, he's an Oriole. In July, the Cubs traded him along with pitcher Scott Feldman for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta. Last week, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., Showalter called him in to tell him he had made the 25-man roster.

"I walked in, and I didn't know what to think," Clevenger said. "I thought, 'Oh man, what's going to happen?' I heard Buck waits until the last minute to tell you whether you made the team. But he pulled me in and told me I made it. I was excited. I called my mother right away, but I didn't tell too many other people, because I didn't know if they had announced it, and I didn't want to get in trouble."

He later sent a text to his former high school coach and mentor, David Norton, now the Mount St. Joe principal.

"Coach Norton is a big reason why I'm here," Clevenger said. "He saw something in me -- worked with me, pushed me and made me the best player I could possibly be. Coach Norton's had a tremendous impact on my career."

Clevenger said he hoped his 13-year-old brother, Scott, would attend Mount St. Joe. Scott Clevenger is in the eighth grade at Arthur Slade Catholic School in Glen Burnie and is a good baseball player. Lou Eckerl, who coached Steve Clevenger Sr. at Cardinal Gibbons during the early 1980s, is the coach at Calvert Hall. 

"He's weighing Calvert Hall and St. Joe right now," Clevenger said. "I'm trying to talk him into St. Joe. It's a big decision for him. You know where my heart is."

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