How many calls did O's catcher/ump get right? '100 percent'

March 1st, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Catchers in Spring Training camps often call balls and strikes in lieu of an umpire during intrasquad games and live batting practice on the backfields. Maverick Handley has done it plenty in recent years, but not typically in a setting like he did Tuesday afternoon.

Handley, a 24-year-old non-roster player in Orioles camp, was the catcher for the final five innings of a 7-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates at LECOM Park. Four of those frames can be found in the box score and one can’t -- that last inning was a bottom of the ninth that occurred despite Pittsburgh (the home team) leading and with no umpires still in attendance.

Fans stuck around to watch, though. It also aired on the Pirates’ TV broadcast. And Handley -- serving in the double-duty role of catcher/home-plate ump -- garnered quite a bit of attention on social media afterward.

“Pretty funny that it blew up,” Handley said on Wednesday morning. “I felt totally prepared, right?”

He did, because of his past experience. So after the umpiring crew departed and players from both sides were set -- including O’s non-roster right-hander Ofreidy Gómez, the pitcher whose scheduled work prompted the decision to play an additional half-inning -- Handley took care of his first job in his expanded role with a yell: “Play ball!”

“I was like, ‘All right, here we go,’” said Handley, a 2019 sixth-round Draft pick who spent all of 2022 at Double-A Bowie. “I was ready.”

None of Handley’s strike/ball decisions caused a dispute. It was a scrimmage-like scenario that developed following an exhibition contest, after all. But the fact that he was responsible for those rulings impacted how he called the inning for Gómez.

“You’re going to be a little bit more aggressive, you’re going to be going after hitters,” Handley said. “You’re not trying to have the borderline strike-three call. You’re going to be trying to force early contact, trying to pump a little bit more heaters in the zone.”

Handley may not be an umpire, but he gave himself a glowing self-review for Tuesday’s assignment. How many of the strike/ball calls would he say he got right?

“100 percent,” Handley said with a grin.

He even stands by a called strike on a Gómez slider that garnered a bit more attention than others. It was a borderline away pitch that Handley framed on the edge of the zone. In a real game, it’s an offering that may have been ruled either way.

Handley estimated it was a pitch that’d be called a strike 85 percent of the time. Good enough for him.

Not only did Handley’s double-duty performance avoid any disputes, but it was a brief assignment. Gómez pitched around a one-out single for a scoreless inning, and then the Orioles and Pirates called it a day.

Unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, Handley impressed by handling the situation well.

“I thought he did a great job behind the plate,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. “He was surprised, but I thought [that] him kind of relaxing and just getting through that inning, it was awesome.”