Invisible Oriole OC grad enjoys behind-the-scenes success in big leagues

Ronnie Deck pulls a Baltimore Orioles jersey over his head and straps on his shin guards every afternoon.

The 1998 OC graduate is always one of the first guys on the field at Camden Yards. He gets heckled by opposing fans just like anyone else.

Inside the clubhouse, Deck’s efforts don’t go unnoticed. The Orioles see the contributions of their generous bullpen catcher, his 10-hour days at the ballpark, and how he works hard behind the scenes. 

“A lot of people say this is a job they’d love to have, but it’s a blue-collar job,” Deck said. “I come here to sweat every day.”

Much of the bullpen catcher’s work comes when players are getting their minds and bodies ready before the first pitch.

“Ronnie is as good as they come at doing the job he does,” said Orioles starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.

Deck tosses the ball around with pitchers and gives them quality feedback on their deliveries and the movement of their pitches. He throws pitches during batting practice and helps hitters in the cage.

“He’s always doing something to help somebody and he’s always happy, always in a good mood,” catcher Craig Tatum said.

Deck is at the intersection of staff, coach and player. He’s listed as a staff member on the team’s website, but Tatum said he looks at Deck as a coach and also as “just one of the guys.”

Deck’s road to Camden Yards wasn’t quite what he expected — but through persistence and a Single-A work ethic, he got there nonetheless.

“It’s probably the prototype trial-and-error career,” he said. “I didn’t have a fast track to professional baseball. I feel like I have a lot to offer (the younger players) with my journey.”

After earning all-conference and NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors in both 1997 and 1998 at Oklahoma Christian, Deck spent three years in independent leagues (teams without affiliations to major-league organizations) before signing with Tampa Bay.

Over two years, he played at five different levels in the Rays’ minor-league system. After two more years of independent baseball, Deck bailed on the dusty motels and his major-league hopes.

“I saw that the window was closing so I decided to get into coaching,” he said.

Deck worked as a coach for a Division III university in Atlanta, a junior college in Colorado and a Frontier League team in Illinois before getting a call in 2007 from then Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who had received a recommendation from one of Deck’s former managers.

He appreciates his bond with the players, but professional responsibilities come first. All he can do is continue to support and assist the players.

“I come in and keep my mouth shut – unless there’s a football discussion going on – and let the guys know I’m here to work and be available for whatever they need,” Deck said.

Alone in public, Deck goes unnoticed. But like the rest of the Orioles, Deck is treated to the perks of a VIP lifestyle. First-rate dining. Four- and five-star hotels. No lines at the airport as the jet-setting Orioles head from city to city.

The biggest difference is the salary. Deck said he has a comfortable living (he lives in Ellicott City and is unmarried), but didn’t want to elaborate.

“I don’t want to dwell on that,” he said. “I just want to soak it in – these stadiums, the fans, the big-league food. This is an unreal opportunity. I just want to enjoy every day in the big leagues, work as hard as I can and let that take me where it may.”

By Matt Vensal, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun