BALTIMORE – When the call finally came -- six Minor League seasons, three elbow surgeries, a prospect's lifespan later -- Branden Kline cried. He isn’t afraid to admit it. He sobbed to his teammates, filling the clubhouse at Triple-A Norfolk with tears. He cried to his wife, who bawled right
BALTIMORE – When the call finally came -- six Minor League seasons, three elbow surgeries, a prospect's lifespan later -- Branden Kline cried. He isn’t afraid to admit it. He sobbed to his teammates, filling the clubhouse at Triple-A Norfolk with tears. He cried to his wife, who bawled right back. He called his mom, he called his dad, more waterworks. Then he got to Baltimore as quickly as possible.
“I’m a little bit of a softie,” Kline admitted, standing at his new locker in the Orioles clubhouse Saturday afternoon. “I was really excited, and the emotions started to hit me, just thinking about the journey it’s taken to get me here to this point.
That journey began near the start of this decade. Kline’s path to the Majors has been consistently checkered since the Orioles made him a second-round MLB Draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2012. The first leg of it ended Saturday, when Kline allowed two runs over his two-inning Major League debut in Baltimore's 16-7 loss to the Twins in Game 2.
Summoned as the 26th man for Game 2 of the club’s doubleheader, Kline was subsequently optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after the game in a move that was expected. But the brief nature of his tenure couldn’t wipe away the smile plastered across the reliever’s face on Saturday, and it did little to overshadow the persistence that finally landed him in Baltimore -- the city that's both his personal home and professional dream. It's a destination that for so long seemed just out of reach.
“It was an incredible moment,” Kline said. “There are still things I have to get better on. At the same time, it was a great moment for myself and my family and friends. A lot of hard work went into tonight. Even though it was just two innings and 30 pitches, about 25 years of work went into that.”
Kline's is a story of perseverance with a local angle. A Fredrick, Md., native, Kline grew up 45 minutes from Camden Yards, a die-hard Orioles fan who dreamed of playing “on the same field [where] I watched a lot of guys from the seats.” By his teenage years, he’d grown into one of the area’s top prospects, good enough to bypass his sixth-round selection by the Red Sox in 2009 for a scholarship to Virginia. A decorated career with the Cavaliers seemed to have Kline on the fast track by the time the Orioles took him 65th overall in 2012.
But then Kline’s body began betraying him. A broken right fibula in 2013, a platelet-rich plasma injection in 2015. He required Tommy John surgery that same year and two follow-up operations. His right elbow is so reconstructed Kline says it has a different birthday than his other one. By the time he returned to the mound in 2018, Kline was 26 and hadn’t pitched competitively in 59 months.
Kline, a starter his whole life, at that point transitioned into a reliever. And he started to excel, pitching to a 2.88 ERA and converting 32 saves last season between Class A Advanced Frederick and Double-A Bowie. He was added to the 40-man roster last summer and pitched well this spring. Kline had an 8.53 ERA in five appearances for Norfolk at the time of his promotion.
“It’s a great opportunity for Branden,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s a big deal for him and his family. I was so happy to shake his hand this morning.”
All told, Kline had upwards of 20 friends and family on hand Saturday to share the moment with him, including his mother Linda, who teared up during an emotional in-game interview with MASN. Kline said he could hear his contingent rooting him on, and he called the ovation he received from the announced crowd of 28,409 “something I’ll never forget.”
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.