It’s probably safe to say that there isn’t another Major League Baseball (MLB) player who grew up closer to their team’s home stadium than Steve Clevenger. The backup catcher for the 2014 Baltimore Orioles, who will turn 28 this Saturday, grew up on the 1200 block of James St. in South Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood, less than a mile away from Camden Yards. While Clevenger isn’t the only Major Leaguer who has grown up in South Baltimore – baseball Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Al Kaline were also born and raised here – he is the first to wear the Orioles uniform at the downtown ballpark.
The Mount Saint Joseph High School alum was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2006 MLB Draft after playing one year of college baseball at Southeastern Louisiana University and one year at Chipola College. Clevenger made appearances for the Cubs in 2012 and 2013, before a dream opportunity arose in July 2013. The Cubs traded Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop on July 2nd. With the trade, Clevenger was going to play for the organization he grew up rooting for, one which he’d walk to go see play during home games as a kid living in Pigtown.
“It was a dream come true,” Clevenger told SouthBMore.com. “Getting drafted by the Cubs, I never thought I’d get the chance to play for the Orioles or play in Camden Yards. I was shocked, not many people get to play for their hometown team.”
Clevenger was sent to the Orioles Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, following the trade, but made his Orioles debut on September 13, 2013 in Toronto. Clevenger went 4-15 in four appearances with the Birds that year. He entered spring training in 2014 with a chance to make the club as the backup catcher and did just that, earning a spot on the Orioles Opening Day 25-man roster. He finished spring training with a .472 average, 2 HRs and 7 RBIs.
“There were probably fifty to a hundred friends and family in the stadium on opening day,” said Clevenger.
While it was the first time Clevenger started a season as a Baltimore Oriole, it was by no means the first time he played baseball in South Baltimore. “Pigtown was a great neighborhood to grow up in. I was always playing ball with kids from the neighborhood,” he said. Clevenger used to play on the grass lots along Ostend St. and played in his first baseball league at Carroll Park.
Clevenger was also a close friend with fellow Pigtown native Romeo Santos, who was recently in contention for ESPN’s Fan Hall of Fame based on his love and dedication for the Orioles and philanthropy. “I’ve known Romeo for a long time. We grew up playing fast pitch together and we used to skateboard together. He’s always getting people to come out to my games,” said Clevenger.
Clevenger always had a ton of Orioles gear growing up, including many jerseys of his childhood hero Cal Ripken. Although he is now an Oriole, Clevenger still hasn’t had a chance to meet the Iron Man.
“I’d love the chance to meet him. I have his jersey from the last All-Star game he played in and I’d love to get him to sign it,” he said. While a meeting with Ripken has yet to happen, Clevenger did, however, have to the chance to meet his other favorite player from childhood, Joe Orsulak, several times.
When Clevenger became a bit older, he became a member of the elite youth travel team the Maryland Orioles, playing for longtime Orioles scout Dean Albany. He then graduated from high school in 2004, where he was part of a star-studded era of Geals’ baseball. He played on the same team for a season as Gavin Floyd, a starting pitcher now with the Atlanta Braves, who has started 187 games in the majors. Prior to Clevenger attending Mount Saint Joseph, the high school’s class of 1998 included Mark Teixeira, who currently plays with the New York Yankees and has 341 career home runs, and Mike O’Connor, who spent several years in the majors, making his debut with the Washington Nationals.
“Mount Saint Joseph has a great baseball program. It definitely prepared me for this time in my life,” said Clevenger, who noted that there is definitely a special bond with all alumni who have played professional baseball. “We all talk, stay in touch, meet up when we are playing against each other, and run into each other at alumni events.”
Clevenger isn’t the only Baltimore-area player currently with the Orioles. In high school Clevenger played against Steve Johnson, a current member of the Norfolk Tides who has played in 21 games for the Orioles over the last two seasons, when Johnson played for the St. Paul’s School. Orioles infielder Steve Lombardozzi is a Howard County native and played high school baseball for Atholton. Alhough they never played together growing up, Clevenger and Lombardozzi met each other during offseason workouts at a training facility in the area a couple years ago.
“It’s great to have so many local guys on the team,” said Clevenger. “I know scouts will tell you that baseball in this area isn’t on par with other parts of the country, but there are definitely hidden gems to be found.”
Though Clevenger now makes his year-round home in Linthicum, Maryland, many members of the media started calling him Steve “Pride of Pigtown” Clevenger during spring training this year. “I think it’s awesome. I’m proud to be from Pigtown and I’m very excited to be playing for Baltimore.”
With the season now underway, Steve “Pride of Pigtown” Clevenger is likely to play one or two times a week, filling in for starting catcher Matt Wieters. During those starts, you can bet he’ll always have many friends and family in the stands who made the short trip to root him on.