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It's An Oriole Family Affair

By Keith Mills

It's 9:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday at Camden Yards, four hours before the Orioles go for a sweep against the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays. There are a handful of players working out in the team's weight room with one addition -- the starting second baseman for the Hereford High School baseball team.

One day earlier, before the Orioles shut out the Rays, 6-0, two members of the McDonogh baseball program were in the same weight room, lifting with strength and conditioning coach Jay Shiner and taking advantage of one of the perks that comes with being the sons of Orioles assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel.

"I'm always reminding myself of just what a great opportunity this is," said Brady Ebel.  "To be able to hang out in a big league clubhouse, work out with the players, and talk to them -- it's an amazing situation."

Brady Ebel is a 15-year-old freshman at McDonogh and the Eagles' starting right fielder, though catching is his favorite position. His brother Brett, also a regular in the Orioles’ clubhouse, is 12 and a member of the McDonogh Middle School team.

Timmy Bancells is the 17-year-old son of longtime Orioles head athletic trainer Richie Bancells and the second baseman and leadoff hitter for Hereford's team. Now a junior, Timmy Bancells started last year as a sophomore and has been hanging out in the O's clubhouse with his dad for as long as he can remember.

"Not many kids get the opportunity to come to a major league field and work out," said Timmy Bancells. "I do it as much as I can. I come out here and take batting practice and get some grounders. It's crazy how lucky I am."

Bancells and the Ebel boys are the latest in a long list of sons of Orioles players, coaches and front office staff who hang out with their dads at the ballpark.

Terry Crowley brought his sons, Terry Jr. and Jimmy, to Memorial Stadium, first as a player for the Orioles, then as a coach. Terry Jr. and Jimmy Crowley both played at Dulaney High and Jimmy eventually played at Clemson. So did Justin Singleton of St. Paul's, who tagged along with his dad Ken Singleton during the early to mid-1980s and parlayed it into a seven-year career in the Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system. Tippy Martinez' son, Jacen, played at Towson University, while Ryan and Ian Hendricks both played college and professional baseball after hanging out in the clubhouse with their dad, Elrod.

Ian Hendricks is now the coach at McDonogh, where Brady Ebel is joined on the team by sophomore Drew MacPhail, the son of Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

Add to that list freshman Ryan Ripken, the son of Cal Ripken Jr. and the starting first baseman for Gilman, and Westminster's Mark Smith, who pitched a no-hitter for the Owls last week. He is the son of Ravens assistant trainer Mark Smith.

In the case of Timmy Bancells, the Ebel brothers, Drew MacPhail and 13-year-old Davis Dunn, the son of Orioles bullpen coach Alan Dunn, they often work out together.

"They run around the field," said Richie Bancells. "They take early BP. They talk about the game. It's neat to watch that group of kids grow up together."

There's usually one constant in the Orioles clubhouse that makes the experience even more enjoyable. That is an American League All-Star who is never too busy (or too "big time") to mentor this next generation of players -- second baseman Brian Roberts.

"He's really great with the kids," said Richie Bancells. "He and Timmy have really bonded. He's taken him under his wing and they really talk a lot about the game. And that's rolled over into high school. His coach says Timmy has a lot of baseball savvy."

"B-Rob is just a great guy," said Timmy Bancells. "His dad told me he and I are a lot alike. When he was in high school he was smaller and not a lot of coaches would recognize his talent because they're looking for the big guys. He just told me to keep working hard and if you're a good enough player you'll be recognized."

"Timmy told me he was batting leadoff and playing second," Roberts said. "I got a big kick out of that. The kids love being here, and it's fun to have those guys around. They treat everybody with respect, and it's fun to see the way they look up to you and try to emulate things that you do.

"They ask some really good questions. But most of the time I see them just watching and listening. The more you're around it, the more you pick up things. I did that with a lot of my dad's players. I didn't ask a lot of questions, but I tried to do everything they did and just watched and paid attention."

Roberts was no different when he was growing up inside the University of North Carolina clubhouse in the '80s. Mike Roberts was the Tar Heels coach and would take his young son to hang out with a team that included future Oriole B.J. Surhoff and future Oakland A's shortstop Walt Weiss.

"It seems like just yesterday that all my dad's players were picking on me," said Roberts. "I was fortunate to be around the ballpark all the time, and I also ended up having some major league guys to follow in B.J and Walt Weiss."

Roberts and his Orioles teammates have accepted Timmy Bancells, Brady Ebel and the rest of the youngsters as their own, although hanging out in the clubhouse comes with some major league responsibility.

"We instilled in them at a very young age to be respectful of everyone in the clubhouse," Brian Ebel said. "They know when to come in and when not to come in and when to speak and when not to."

"We definitely don't take it for granted," said Brady Ebel. "It's familiar to us and a great opportunity, but we must be respectful."

***

Richie Bancells began working for the Orioles in 1977, one year before he graduated from Biscayne College in South Florida. In 1984, he joined the team in Baltimore as Ralph Salvon's assistant. Four years later, after Salvon passed away, Bancells was named head trainer. 

Richie and wife Carol have three children. Chris, 28, is a teacher at Edgewood High School in Harford County while Andrea, 23, teaches at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"Carol and I are very lucky," said Richie Bancells. "Chris and Andrea are both giving back and helping kids. Christopher's a teacher and a writer. Andrea teaches autistic children at Kennedy Krieger. We're very proud of them."

Then there's Timmy, who inherited his dad's love and passion for baseball. He first began playing tee-ball for Forest Hill Little League and when the family moved to Parkton eight years ago he joined the Hereford recreation program. Now, he plays for the Hereford travel team in the summer and the high school team in the spring -- and absolutely adores the game.  

"That's the most enjoyable thing for me," said Richie Bancells. "I hear it from his high school coach and I hear it from our guys when he comes down here. They all talk about the heart he has for the game and how much he loves it. It's all on his own. It's nothing we've done to push him into playing."

"I guess when I got to middle school I started taking it seriously," said Timmy. "I wanted to play in high school and then looked to play varsity as a sophomore. I can't put a certain word on it. But the more you're around the game and learning about it, you just learn to love it."

It was in middle school when Timmy also first realized that not only did his father work for the Orioles but also he was an important member of the organization.

"I remember being around Cal (Ripken) and Eddie Murray, and they would always talk about what he did," Timmy said. "But it wasn't until I first started coming down to the ballpark and saw for myself just how important he is to the team."

Unfortunately for Richie Bancells, his spring and summer schedule with the Orioles prevents him from watching most of Timmy's games.

"If you want a scouting report, you better ask Carol," he said, "because she's there all the time. I did get a chance to see him play quite a bit last fall. He's got good hands and feet. He runs really well and is a good fielder. He's come into his own a little bit now as a hitter. And he's smart. His coach tells me he can take a pitcher deep into a count and has gotten a lot of two-strike hits. Plus, he helps with the positioning of the defense."

***

Like Timmy Bancells, Brady and Brett Ebel are baseball fanatics in the spring and summer and gym rats the rest of the year. Brady also plays soccer and basketball at McDonogh, though baseball is his love.

"In spring training," said Brian Ebel, "Brady got a chance to work with Rick Dempsey and Don Werner (the Orioles’ minor league catching instructor). They'll have him block balls in the morning and then he'll go to the batting cages in the afternoon. Even though he's playing the outfield right now at school, catching is his passion."

Like Timmy Bancells, Brady realized a few years ago exactly what his dad did for a living.

"It was the '05 season that I really got to be a part of the clubhouse," said Brady Ebel, "and I really got to see how much my dad contributed.  I am proud of him.  He's on the road a lot and it's hard when he's away but he does so much for the players."

"I hardly miss a soccer game in the fall or a basketball game in the winter," said Brian Ebel, "but I do miss not being able to see him play. He's definitely a student of the game. He's always watching. I'll go home after a night game and he'll talk about what Jason Varitek did or what one of our guys did -- guys he admires.   

Brady Ebel played little league baseball for the Cockeysville Rec Council and plays summer ball now for the Under Armor Heat, one of the area's premier U16 teams that also features Ryan Ripken. Brett Ebel plays for the U13 Maryland Mud Hens and plays second base and shortstop for McDonogh's middle school team.

"They're awesome kids," said Brian Roberts. "Fun to be around. I'm hoping one day I look up and one of them is in the big leagues."

"You see a lot of high school kids who try to be the big shots," said Timmy Bancells. "But you come to a place like this and you watch a major leaguer and they've made it. They know they're good but they don't try and show it off. I want to be that kind of player. Quiet. Do what I can on the field. I've learned that in here. These guys are normal guys. Great guys."

Issue 136: April 2009