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Baltimore's Diamond Mine

August 1, 2006
By Jim Henneman

Baltimore's entry in next week's 62nd annual All America Amateur Baseball Association tournament in Johnstown, Pa., will be seeking an unprecedented fourth straight national title, while continuing a tradition of excellence that has lasted more than a half-century.

For the last five years the team has played under the name of Youse's Maryland Orioles, in honor of the late legendary coach, Walter Youse, who guided the team the previous 46 seasons. Dean Albany, the most recent of the impressive list of assistants who served under Youse, is in his fifth year as the team's leader. He is only the third coach in the team's 55-year history.

Over that period of time, Baltimore's AAABA representative has won 23 national championships and finished second eight times. At last count, 48 former players have gone to the big leagues, including two Hall of Famers. Two others went on to become major league general managers.

It all began in 1952, when the signature player was Al Kaline, a skinny kid from Southern High School who would blaze a trail that ended in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the team sponsors were three brothers whose family ran a restaurant in south Baltimore. Dominic, Tony and Vince Leone had no idea what they were getting into, but they certainly could not have envisioned the dynasty that would emerge.

They could have never predicted that one day they would join Youse in the AAABA Hall Of Fame. Vince, the only surviving brother, will be on hand for the induction Saturday night, when Dominic Leone Jr. will deliver the acceptance speech on behalf of his father and uncles.

Ray Muhl was the manager of the first Leone's team that featured Al Kaline. He turned over the reins to Youse in 1957. Youse ran the team under three different names until he passed away five years ago. The team operated under the Leone's banner until 1972, then had long runs under the names of Johnny's, sponsored by Johnny Wilbanks, and Corrigan's, with former Leone's pitcher Bill Corrigan backing the team. The club has operated as the Maryland Orioles for the last eight years, with the support of the major league team.

"A lot of people refer to us as the Orioles' 'scout' team," said Albany, who in his real job is just that -- a scout for the local team. "They take care of our equipment needs and some of our other expenses, like umpires' fees. And it does give us an advantage in looking at some of these kids."

The team has been something of a "scouting tool" almost since its inception. Youse, who had coached Kaline in American Legion ball, scouted for the Orioles until the mid-70's, then followed former general manager Harry Dalton to the California Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. While his scouting duties took him all over the country, Youse always spent the summers with "his team."

"He ran the show," said Albany, who pitched for the 1980-81 teams. "Even when he was in a wheelchair, he'd call all of the shots from the dugout. All I did was relay his signs. Like anybody who had ever played or coached for him, I learned an awful lot from Walter."

According to Albany, Youse's legacy lives on in ways other than having his name on a set of jerseys. "We put his name on the uniform because we wanted to do something to keep his name associated with the team -- and when we did it, Mr. Corrigan paid for them," Albany said. "But beyond that, we still do everything the same way. We haven't changed a thing."

Albany acknowledged that "everything" includes how to wear a uniform. Whenever a player joins a Youse team for the first time, his first lesson is how to roll his socks and pants. Everyone has to where them the same length, no "big league styles" allowed.

"We still do that," said Albany. "We still wear the stirrup socks."

Like virtually all the teams before this one, Albany's current squad is heavily laden with prospects, many of whom come here at the recommendation of their college coaches. That's how Reggie Jackson, the other Hall of Famer besides Kaline, came to spend a summer in Baltimore before being drafted out of Arizona State.

A Proud Tradition Since the inception of the team that has evolved from Leone's to Johnny's to Corrigan's to Youse's Orioles, many top coaches and players in the area have come through the organization, starting with Ray Muhl, the original manager.

Jim Foit, who had a son and grandson play on the team and who still regularly follows the team, was on Walter Youse's original staff. Some of the others who passed through were George Henderson, Bernie Walter, Norm Gilden, Mel Montgomery, Jason King and most recently Dean Albany, who took over direction of the team when Youse passed away.

King is still a member of Albany's staff, as are pitching coach Tim Norris (one of the Orioles' three second-round draft choices in 1978 along with Larry Sheets and Cal Ripken), Joe Sargent and Mike Leone.

John Schuerholz, who has presided over the Atlanta Braves' 14-year run as National League divisional champions, and Joe Klein, with Cleveland and Detroit, are former players who became major league general managers.

Hall Of Famers Al Kaline and Reggie Jackson are the most prominent names who have gone on to play in the big leagues, while Todd Jones, John Mabry and Gavin Floyd are current active players in the majors.

Here's a list of some others who have gone on to play in the big leagues (courtesy of Mike Mastovich of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat):

Willie Aikens
Brian Bark
Dave Boswell
Mike Cavanaugh
David Clay
Doug Creek
Joel Cressler
Rusty Gerhardt
Wayne Gomes
Moose Haas
Joey Hamilton
Paul Hartzel
Roy Heiser
Gene Hiser
Joe Kerrigan
Jim Lehew
Phil Linz
John Miller
Denny Neagle
Tim Nordbrook
Tom Phoebus
Chuck Porter
Charles Sands
Chuck Scrivener
Barry Shetrone
Paul Shuey
Kirt Siebert
Brick Smith
Greg Smith
Jim Spencer
John Stefero
Rick Steirer
Burt Sutter
Weldin Swift
Ron Swift
Ron Swoboda
Scooter Tucker
Jay Witasick
Butch Wynegar

This season, 11 different colleges are represented on the 13-man pitching staff, including two from the University of Texas. Right-handers Hunter Harris, the staff leader with a 5-1 record and 1.21 ERA, and Miles Clauss will enter their second year with the Longhorns in September.

Left-hander Neal Davis, a late-round selection by the Orioles in the June draft, is most likely headed to the University of Virginia. Perhaps the most unlikely member of the team is right-hander Mitch Harris, who throws 94 mph and was granted summer leave before returning to the Naval Academy for his junior year. Neal Ramirez, a 6-4, 190-pound right-hander from Virginia Beach, will be a senior in the fall and is projected to be one of the top high school pitching prospects in the country next year.

Aerik Taylor, who is from Hagerstown and headed to Oklahoma State, Michael Broyles (Mississippi), Adam Kalafos (headed to Youngstown State from Catonsville CC), Josh Squatrito (Dundalk CC), and Daniel Cropper (Snow Hill, UNC-Wilmington), fill out the right-handed side of the pitching staff. Eddie Bach (UMBC), Matt Zoltak (Philadelphia-Clemson), and Jon Kibler (Michigan State) join Davis on the southpaw side.

Catcher Vince Difazio (Alabama), and infielders Brian Conley (Towson), and Justin McClanahan (Louisville), are the team's leading hitters, along with first baseman Justin Bour, who will join his brother, catcher Jason Bour, at George Mason next year.

Shortstop Allan Smaltz, from White Marsh, anchors the defense and is the team's stolen base leader. Klye Moore (Alabama), and Joe Van Meter (Marshall), round out the infield portion of the roster.

Centerfielder Jon Weislow, also from George Mason, is the only pure outfielder on an otherwise versatile roster. Cullen Kight (Mississippi), and Scott Krieger (George Mason,) also play first base, while Ryan Rhoden (Alabama), Adam Grap of Ellicott City, and infielder Patrick Long (Georgia Tech), are among five players on the roster with catching experience.

Although the AAABA tournament is classified as "under 20," most of the competition the Maryland Orioles face during the summer is against older players. "We play 16 games in the Baltimore Recreation Department league to qualify for Johnstown," Albany said. "Our full schedule is about 65 games."

The majority of those games are in the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League, an under-22 league that  features teams from Rockville, Bethesda, College Park, Silver Spring, and another Baltimore team, the Redbirds, in addition to Youse's Orioles. The rest are various exhibitions against outside teams, most specifically invited so Albany and the Orioles' staff can get a closer look at a prospect.

"It definitely gives us an advantage when it comes to seeing some of these guys," said Albany, who was the primary scout involved in the Orioles' selection of infielder Bill Rowell with their No.1 pick this year. He was also instrumental in picking pitcher Pedro Beato with the second choice.

"We had to wait until after June 1, because the Mets still had negotiating rights (to Beato) from last year," Albany said. "But, right after that, and before the draft, we brought in his team from Brooklyn and our people were able to get another, closer look at him."

The most recent graduate of Youse's Orioles to reach the major leagues, although not yet for good, is Gavin Floyd, the Mount St. Joseph grad and a No. 1 pick of the Phillies four years ago. Albany believes that three more of his former right-handed pitchers are high on the Orioles' radar screen. "Brandon Erbe and Chorye Spoone are doing a great job at Delmarva," he said. "James Hoey has moved up to Frederick and already has 29 saves (18 at Delmarva, 11 at Frederick). All three of those guys were picked for the South Atlantic League All-Star game and I think we'll be hearing a lot about them."

As for the immediate future, the team that will try to win a fourth straight AAABA title has no players with Johnstown experience, but there will be high expectations nevertheless. Nothing less than the best would be tolerated from a team that has an overall 229-83 record (.733) in 59 previous tournaments.

After 55 years, the dynasty started by the Leone brothers is still going strong.

Issue 1.15: August 3, 2006

(Photography by Sabina Moran/PressBox)