BALTIMORE -- When Ryan Flaherty was in sixth grade, he was already fielding grounders on a college diamond.
Not as a member of the team, of course, but as the son of University of Southern Maine coach Ed Flaherty.
Ed, who has been coaching at Southern Maine for 27 seasons, surrounded Ryan with baseball, even if he never forced the sport on him.
"I pretty much grew up around it," Ryan said. "He would give me pointers as a kid and stuff, but at the same time, he let me play, he let me figure things out on my own. He was never someone who pushed baseball on me."
When Ryan was young, Ed would gather all of the neighborhood kids and pitch to them in street games. As Ryan got older, Ed let him be a batboy for Southern Maine, and by the time Ryan reached high school, he was facing college pitchers in the team's indoor fieldhouse.
Though Ryan picked up a lot just from being around his dad and a college program, Ed never actually coached his son or forced him to play baseball.
"I really didn't teach Ryan a lot, I don't think," Ed said. "Maybe little pointers here and there. I don't ever push him at all and say, 'Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?'"
Instead, Ed encouraged Ryan to become a three-sport athlete up until his junior year of high school. Given the climate in the Flahertys' hometown of Portland, Maine, changing sports with the season was almost a necessity, and Ed believes it made Ryan into the versatile utility player he's become for the Orioles.
As time went on, baseball became Ryan's passion and his focus, and he was able to learn the ins and outs of the game just by being around and asking questions.
"Ryan was a kid who really has probably enjoyed every game he has ever played," Ed said. "I think he enjoys every practice he goes to, he always did -- always had a smile on his face."
When it came time for Ryan to choose a school, Ed mostly pushed him away from Southern Maine, saying the Division III program was a little below Ryan's elite talents.
"Growing up, I always thought I just wanted to play [for Southern Maine] and I'd be fine the rest of my life," said Ryan, who eventually landed at Vanderbilt. "My dad wanted me to go down South. As much as him and my mom loved having me around, I think they knew that was best for my career."
Still, Ed was there to be Ryan's coach in mostly non-baseball matters.
"He's much more of a dad than a coach," Ryan said. "He always gave me a lot of advice, mostly off the field."
When Ryan found out during the spring that he was going to make the Orioles' roster, Ed was his first call.
"You almost get tears in your eyes when he called," Ed said. "It's a dream that a kid always has. To make a big league roster, and the odds of a Maine player to make a big league roster, you just don't know the feeling that that could give somebody."
Ed made the trip to Baltimore for the Orioles' season-opening series against the Twins, when Ryan made his first Major League appearance. He has also been at Fenway Park for both of the O's series against the Red Sox, the team he and the rest of the Flaherty family had always cheered for.
Now a converted Orioles fan, Ed watched as Ryan made his first career start in left field, notching a single and making a leaping catch against the Green Monster.
"To see him playing out there was quiet a thrill," Ed said.