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Everybody Loves Kirby

May 15, 2017
You think you know Wayne Kirby. 

You think you know the Orioles' first base coach. He's the guy who threw a ball to your daughter. He's the one who bantered with your brother-in-law in the stands that night. He's the one they featured on the scoreboard, cooking his ribs.

Kirby is all of those guys. He's also more, much more.

Wayne Kirby, 53, is in his seventh season coaching first base for the Orioles, after coming to Baltimore in 2011 as one of Buck Showalter's coaches during the manager's first full season.

"Kirb's very easy to talk to, always approachable," Showalter said. "What people miss sometimes, because he has such a good personality, is how good he is and how knowledgeable he is. He's got a great passion for the Orioles and for just doing things right. I trust him explicitly."

Kirby is perhaps the loudest human being you've ever heard. You can hear him from several hundred yards away, but his voice, joking or barking instructions, isn't an off-putting one, but a friendly, mostly welcoming voice.

That voice can be hilarious. In spring training, after Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette suggested, indirectly, that center fielder Adam Jones play deeper, Kirby laughed when Jones took the field for the first time in February with his back close to the center-field fence.

"Playing deep enough for you?" Kirby yelled, punctuating it with his trademark laugh.

Spring training may be where Kirby does his best work, drilling outfielders on positioning, throwing and fielding. He takes that seriously.

In 2013, after Jones missed some of spring training to play in the World Baseball Classic and made some uncharacteristic miscues during the early weeks of the season, Kirby attributed them, in part, to the center fielder's lack of fundamental work because of his absence.

There was no repeat of that this year when Jones again left spring training for the WBC.

Jones is Kirby's most attentive student as well as a close friend.

By the time Kirby came to the Orioles, Jones was already in his fourth season in Baltimore, but there was more to learn.

"You're good. You know what you can do, now let's get better," Kirby told Jones. "Let's improve these things. Make yourself smarter, learn the hitters more."

Issue 233: Orioles 2017: Wayne Kirby (orange jersey)
Photo Credit: Todd Olszewski/Baltimore Orioles

Kirby The Teacher

Not only does Kirby teach outfield play, he is also a student of baserunning, and he teaches the Orioles about life.

"Kirby told me a lot of things, but the one thing he's told me almost all the time, if you treat the game right, the game will reward you," second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. "Play hard, run hard, run the bases hard, play the game hard, don't get mad, don't get outs. He's right, too.

"This guy is the same guy every day, joking around. His style, his personality is so good. If he has something to say, he'll tell you straight up. If you're not doing good hitting, he'll come to you, let's clean it up, go to work. He's a good man, definitely. He keeps it loose."

The Oriole who has known Kirby the longest, first baseman Chris Davis, has benefited from his teaching ability.

In 2012, when Davis was needed in right and left field, Kirby was there to help.

"Kirb helped me out a lot with alignment, taking me out early, hitting balls off the wall and in that little corner at Camden, which is tough if you haven't played there," Davis said. "He's one of those guys that he's going to talk a big game, but he definitely backs it up and is willing to work at any point in time."

Kirby's teaching is not exclusively for his ballclub. He eagerly teaches his three children, daughters Caylee and Cabria and 10-year-old son Caden.

Caylee, who is due to graduate from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in May, got to spend extra time with her father last year. She was a production intern for MASN, an experience both daughter and father found valuable.

"You teach them everything they need to know about what I do, and I'm definitely interested in what they do," Kirby said, "and if that's the career she wants to go in, journalism or sports broadcasting, I'm behind them, and I'm going to try to do my best giving them an edge up by coming to work for MASN last summer, intern without pay, just to get them understanding about the industry, what it takes to do it."

Cabria will graduate from high school in June, and Caden is an eager young athlete. For Kirby, it's not his first shot at mentoring a family member.

Terry Kirby --- Wayne's younger brother by six years -- played 10 seasons in the NFL as a running back for the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns from 1993 to 2002. Wayne had a hand in getting his little brother ready for the challenges that awaited.

"We used to play a lot of sandlot football, sandlot basketball, sandlot baseball," Wayne Kirby said, "and he was pretty big at age 5 and 6, so we said, 'you're going to get hurt.' He said, 'I don't care. I want to play.' I think he got his mental toughness when he was young, and we didn't take it easy on him."

Just as Kirby "didn't take it easy" on his kid brother years ago, the Orioles coach has been straightforward in trying to guide Jones.

"Being around his kids and having my own kids, just the little things in life, he's taught me also, and it's good to have him, a strong black man around to implement those core values," Jones said. "He's 20 years my senior, so ... not to listen to him on other things, not just baseball, would be a waste of my time because he's a man full of knowledge. In his words, he has about eight terabytes of knowledge. That's his words."

Issue 233: Orioles 2017: Wayne Kirby (back)
Photo Credit: Todd Olszewski/Baltimore Orioles

Steadying Influence

Kirby was an outfielder for eight years in the major leagues with Cleveland, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets from 1991-1998.

"I know what it's like to play eight-and-a-half years in the minor leagues," Kirby said. "I know what it's like to play in the big leagues. I know what it's like to have pressure on you. You're away from your family. You can relate. Sometimes you feel like a father figure every once in a while. When things go bad, you've got to lift them up. When things are going good, you've got to tell them to stay on an even keel. ... I try to keep it real and be as honest as possible."

Kirby spends more time than any other Orioles coach in the clubhouse playing cards, chess and pool, but when he needs to be, he can be tough.

"You have to have one coach on the player bus, and he's the guy," Showalter said. "If there's any bullshit going on, I know he's going to take care of it.

"He doesn't come telling me what players are saying or doing. It's not like that. He knows I don't want that. He's got to keep that trust. There's a fine line you walk getting too close, but Kirby walks it very well. He's your best ally, and he can be your biggest critic, but he's got a pure heart. He can take it as well as dish it out.

"Every team needs someone that brings what Wayne brings. He's more than just an outfield coach, first base coach. He takes first base coaching to another level. He's a student of the game. He's always on. He's always engaged in the competition. He's always very consistent. The players need to know when they walk in the door, he's not moody. 'Stay away from Kirby, he's having a bad day.' You don't do that. He doesn't expect anybody else to ask him. You're out there competing, you can't come in and say, you're having a bad day. It doesn't play. He sets a great example. He was a really good player on some championship teams. He does more than talk the talk. He's walked it."

When Kirby was with Cleveland in the mid-90s, the Indians had strong personalities in the outfield. Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez could be polarizing, and Kirby was the fourth outfielder on the 1995 team that went to the World Series.

"I felt like I was teaching back then," Kirby said. "I was probably the oldest one of the bunch. I was 29, 30 years old. Kenny was young. Albert was young. Manny was young. We all were young, but they looked up to me because I spent so much time in the minor leagues.

"Even though I spent so much time in the minor leagues ... I still knew how to play the game. … They would ask me questions. What are you supposed to do on this? What are you supposed to do on that? If you see a guy come out of the minor leagues early, there's still a lot of baseball to understand, so I was still pretty much coaching as a player."

Issue 233: Orioles 2017: Wayne Kirby (with Manny Machado, Adam Jones)
Photo Credit: Todd Olszewski/Baltimore Orioles

Fun And Food

In Kirby's world, baseball should be fun.

"I've always been interacting with the fans," Kirby said. "I'm a firm believer if they talk to you, I don't care how they talk to you. I do care, but when someone gets mad at you, I don't talk back to them. I just tilt up [my fingers] like you've been drinking or I tell them to stand up so I can see who's talking to me. I say, 'You know my name. Tell me your name.' We interact. It's fun.

"I believe in giving the infielders a fresh ball every inning, so they don't throw with the scuff and all that. I want them to throw good balls every inning. It's a good trait. The balls that come back in scuffed or wet or whatever, I think the fans deserve a ball. I can't give everybody a ball."

In spring training 2015, Orioles manager of in-game entertainment Bryan Krandle produced a series of videos for the scoreboard featuring one of Kirby's talents. Productions producer Ben Epstein came up with a catchy jingle, and "Cooking with Kirby" was born.

It's no exaggeration to say Kirby's cooking abilities are legendary.

"Outstanding, outstanding," Jones said. "There's only one thing I'm not a fan of his, and that's his meatloaf. I don't like his meatloaf too much. That's the only thing. The pasta, the ribs, the salmon is unbelievable -- rockfish, the orange roughy, the wings with the Asian sauce, he's Chef-Boy-A-Kirb to me."

Added third baseman Manny Machado: "Great cook, great. It's amazing. I think his ribs -- I love his ribs and his pastas are phenomenal."

Kirby began cooking as a youngster with his grandmother.

"She told me, 'Son, you're going to have to learn how to cook in case you're on your own one day,'" Kirby said. "In the minor leagues, I was on my own, so, basically, I learned from the minor leagues. You learn a lot of things in the minor leagues. You learn yourself when you're away from your parents, how you adapt.

"You just watch a few cooking stations and you get tips. I don't use a cookbook. I just remember."

Kirby The Game Player

For several years, Kirby played cards and pool with Orioles players. Then, last year, right-handed pitcher Dylan Bundy started playing chess, and it quickly caught on. Fellow right-hander Kevin Gausman picked up the game, and designated hitter Pedro Alvarez played. Then Schoop and Machado, and, of course, Kirby.

"This is a close-knit clubhouse, and you want to learn everything you possibly can learn," Kirby said. "We learn how to play chess. We learn how to play better baseball. It's a family. We teach each other. If you've got a kid, you teach him how to hit and play baseball. This is a family, and we're teaching each other everything we can possibly know about life itself and a baseball game."

These days, Kirby's most frequent playing partners are Schoop and Machado.

"Kirby's good at everything," Machado said. "Kirby, he beats us at chess. He beats us at card games. A couple of years ago, it was all cards. Now, we changed to chess. He still beats us. He adapts. He adapts real quick."

For Jones, Kirby is the ideal competitor.

"He wants to win just as bad as the players, and you see that in his eyes, which is terrific," Jones said. "He pushes the players, pitchers, the coaching staff, the front office, the media. He pushes everybody. You've seen him. You've been around him; he's always exuding a fun personality and a smile. If you can't feed off that, I don't know where you're at."  

Issue 233: May 2017