Branden Kline’s surprising retirement from baseball drew much more attention than many more celebrated players. Kline announced on Instagram on Wednesday that he was ending his career at 29.
Kline pitched in just 37 games with a 1-4 record and a 5.48 ERA in the 2019 and 2020 season.
The reason that many fans and his former teammates commented on him was not only his friendliness and humility, but that Kline was a Marylander who was drafted by the Orioles in the second round in 2012 and played only for his local team.
Kline was born in Frederick, attended Thomas Johnson High School and the University of Virginia.
Injuries delayed his arrival in the majors. Tommy John surgery cost him the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and it took nearly seven years until he finally reached the major leagues.
Kline was recalled as the Orioles’ 26th man for the second game of a doubleheader on April 20, 2019 and had a small army of friends and family in the lower bowl to cheer him on.
As the 26th man, Kline didn’t know if he would pitch but with the Orioles trailing the Minnesota Twins, 13-4, manager Brandon Hyde summoned him.
Kline pitched a scoreless seventh, and after allowing home runs to Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver in the eighth, his debut was over. Chris Davis would pitch the ninth, as Kline exulted in finally making it to the majors.
After the game, Kline talked about how he felt.
“Right away 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,” Kline said. “Then, remembering the team is in Baltimore, and I grew up 45 minutes away from here. It’s definitely special.”
Kline returned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game, and was called up to the Orioles and returned to the minor leagues several times during the season. But he pitched in 34 games in 2019.
He was removed from the 40-man roster in 2020 when infielder Pat Valaika was claimed on waivers from Arizona on January 30th. Kline passed through waivers, wasn’t claimed and returned to the Orioles. He appeared in three games in September 2020 and then was taken off the roster again in October.
The Orioles have had 28 Marylanders in their history. The most noted — Cal Ripken Jr., Brady Anderson (born in Silver Spring), Harold Baines and Bill Ripken — are easy to name.
Steve Barber, a left-handed pitcher who was the Orioles’ first 20-game winner, and Tom Phoebus, a right-hander who pitched a no-hitter in 1968, are recalled fondly by older Oriole fans. Phoebus and right-hander John Miller, who won a World Series ring with the 1966 Orioles, pitched for high schools that were only minutes apart, Mount St. Joe and Edmondson.
Dave Johnson had a memorable ride in the 1989 season and pitched in 66 games from ’89-1991. His son Steve was a useful addition to the 2012 Orioles and pitched in 27 games in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
But most of the names on the list are remembered more for being from the area than their accomplishments.
Maybe you played with or against Tim Nordbrook, a utility infielder with the team who appeared in 74 games from 1974-1976, or you lived in the same neighborhood as another infielder, Steve Lombardozzi, who played 20 games in 2014.
In recent years, Oriole fans have cheered for Steve Clevenger, a catcher obtained from the Chicago Cubs in July 2013 in the trade that sent Jake Arrieta away. Clevenger was in 69 games from 2013-2015.
Kline is one of four Marylanders who have played for the Orioles in the last three seasons.
Evan Phillips, a right-handed pitcher who was born in Salisbury but moved to North Carolina when he was 2, has pitched in 44 games in parts of the last three seasons. Phillips was also removed from the 40-man roster at the end of the 2020 season but remains in the organization.
Ryan Meisinger, a Prince Frederick native, appeared in 18 games in 2018 and resurfaced with the St. Louis Cardinals last season.
One of the interesting stories of the 2020 season was Bruce Zimmermann’s debut. The left-hander, who came to the Orioles along with Phillips in the trade that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta in July 2018, was a rabid Orioles fan growing up in Ellicott City.
He’d always dreamed of pitching before family and friends but when his debut came in September, there were no fans because of the pandemic.
He’s hoping his next time at Camden Yards is more like Kline’s debut — in front of those closest to him.