Joey Rickard is the Orioles’ newest man of mystery — in a few different ways.
Heading into December 2015, it’s fair to say most Orioles fans had never heard of him.
He was in the Tampa Bay Rays organization — toiling away in the minors, but hitting at every level — before the Orioles claimed him Dec 10 in the Rule 5 draft.
He was a longshot to make the Orioles’25-man roster out of spring; he also needs to remain on the roster all year, or be offered back to the Rays.
With a tremendous spring, Rickard survived the cut. And he’s become a revelation: A leadoff hitter with strong defensive skills and a little pop; his first home run drew a curtain call at Camden Yards.
He’s still a bit of an unknown, of course. To opposing pitchers, who need to adjust to his patient approach that belies his years as a pro. And to fans, who quickly have warmed to this polite 24-year-old from Las Vegas who hit and hit some more in his first two weeks in the majors.
We’ll surely learn more about Rickard, the player and the guy, as time goes on. But know this: Rickard likes himself a good mystery.
In fact, he can’t get enough of them. When Rickard has some down time, he’s watching medical/police investigative dramas or documentaries.
CSI anywhere or any show that breaks down how a perfect crime wasn’t so perfect. He calls himself “a big Netflix guy,” and said his absolute favorite program is “Forensic Files,” a documentary-style series that began on TLC and shows how forensic science is used to solve crimes and accidents. It explains the unexplainable.
“I re-watch those a lot. I feel like they make me smarter in a way, but I don’t know if they really do,” Rickard said, laughing.
Rickard was a psychology major at the University of Arizona. He also was a speedy center fielder who helped the Wildcats to the national championship as a junior before being drafted by the Rays in the ninth round.
If he weren’t playing baseball, Rickard said he could see himself working in the field of criminology as an investigator or police officer.
“It’s just interesting. You’ve got to be really smart, you have to be physically ready to attack anything,” he said. “You never know what to expect. It keeps you on your toes.”
This baseball gig has worked out pretty well so far for Rickard, who has batted .304 with four doubles and a homer while starting all 11 Orioles games this season. He’s basically become the club’s leadoff hitter and starting left fielder, though he also started six games in center while Adam Jones was out with ribcage discomfort.
Rickard’s spent much of these past two weeks taking in each new experience, like his first game starting in center field at Camden Yards.
“I did, definitely before the game,” he said. “Being out there, getting some fly balls in batting practice, just knowing I was going to be out there. I was just trying to relax and have some fun.”
His favorite moment so far came before his first big-league at-bat; Running down the orange carpet during player introductions on Opening Day.
“That orange carpet run got to me, that was something special,” he said. “Hearing the fans while running out there was something you always dream of and it was actually happening. That hit me right then and there.”
He’s had some pretty amazing experiences so far. His first start, his first hit, his first homer – which caused his first curtain call – and seven straight games with a hit to begin his big league career.
The guy who loves figuring out mysteries is trying to get his head around all of the hype and the hyperbole that’s surrounding him. Suddenly, Rickard has been thrust into the spotlight in his first 46 at-bats.
“I take it for what it is, it’s comical in a way. But it’s a long year,” said Rickard, quickly sounding like the respectful rookie he is. “I just go out there and try to do whatever I can to help this team get wins.”