0

Still chasing the dream
Mitchell starts ninth minor league season

LAWRENCEVILLE - Andy Mitchell is 30 and looking more and more like a career minor leaguer. Yet he hasn't given up on his big league dream.

"I'll keep pitching as long as I can," the Heritage High School graduate said. "I guess that there is something to be said for perseverance. Maybe someday I'll finally get that call-up I've been waiting for all these years."

This is Mitchell's ninth minor league season with the Baltimore organization and his fourth in Class AAA - just one rung below the majors. He got a look in spring training with the Orioles in 2006, but nothing came of it.

The Norfolk Tides right-hander was never a top prospect, going undrafted after finishing at Georgia Tech in 2001. Yet he's always had decent success in the minors and was showcased in the Arizona Fall League after his first AAA season in 2005.

Married for nearly five years and with a second child on the way this June, Mitchell will eventually have to put his management degree to use. That can wait for awhile, though.

"I still feel that I have an opportunity with the Orioles," Mitchell said before an International League game against the Gwinnett Braves. "Things just haven't fallen right so far."

Mitchell got his first win of the season with family and friends from Rockdale and Newton counties on hand last Saturday at Gwinnett Stadium. He pitched 22/3 innings in relief and allowed one run in Norfolk's 7-4 victory over Gwinnett.

Mitchell's niche is his submarine delivery, which is difficult to handle for

right-handed hitters. He became a full-time pitcher at Georgia Tech only after he hurt his back and the Yellow Jackets signed Mark Teixeira.

"They saw me flipping the ball sidearm from third base and asked me to try it from the mound," Mitchell said. "I was so low with my arm angle in college. Now I drop way down. It is definitely submarine, not just sidearm."

Mitchell was strictly a relief pitcher until 2007, when he got a few starts for Norfolk. He was a regular in the Tides' rotation most of last season, winning a team-best 12 games.

"We have a lot of young starters this year, so they don't need me in the rotation," Mitchell said. "That's fine. I'm probably more suited for the bullpen anyway."

Mitchell has pitched in more than 45 games four times, with a high of 60 appearances for Class A Frederick of the Carolina League in 2003. His AAA best was 50 games in 2006.

Mitchell's pitching hasn't just been confined to the summer, either. He has spent the past two winters playing in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

"It's a way to earn some extra money and get a little more exposure," Mitchell said.

Mitchell has been a minor league free agent after the past two seasons, but decided to re-sign with Baltimore. "They know me and that's good," he said.

Playing against Gwinnett was an opportunity for a homecoming. "My family is all still here in the area and so is my wife's," he said. "I tried to get as many tickets this weekend as I could."

Mitchell and his wife, Becky, live in Covington. They went to high school together at Heritage and have been married five years this October. Their son, Nolan, is 21/2 and a second child, a daughter, is due in late June.

"My wife will be with me for a little while in Norfolk, then she'll go back home to have the baby," Mitchell said.

"Playing baseball isn't easy on a family. There are some tough times. But hopefully everything is worth it."

Mitchell is still living his baseball dream. It just hasn't reached the happy ending yet.