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George Mason shines Ray of hope on Orioles

April 06, 2006|by ANDY MASON

Like most sports fans - or at least those who don't root for the New York Yankees - I love a good underdog story, something to remind me that anything is possible.

If George Mason can reach the Final Four, the Baltimore Orioles can make the playoffs.

Inspired by George Mason's Elite Eight upset of tourney-favorite Connecticut, I drafted new Orioles closer Chris Ray for my fantasy baseball team. Ray and the Patriots both hail from the Colonial Athletic Association - the "mid-major" conference of my frat-party days.

Of all the schools in this year's NCAA Tournament, I had seen George Mason play live more than any other, although I had rooted against the Patriots every single time.

Of all the current players in Major League Baseball, I'm pretty sure Ray is the only one with whom I share an alma mater - William & Mary.

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I still vividly remember the basketball game at William & Mary in January 1993 against undefeated and nationally ranked Virginia of the powerful ACC. W&M magically erased a double-digit deficit in the second half to force overtime. It's still one of the greatest sporting events I've seen. Had W&M gone on to win, it would be the greatest.

Ray wasn't even 12 years old at the time. He graduated from W&M in 2003 and was drafted by the Orioles in the third round that year. After a successful stint in the bullpen for Double-A Bowie last season - after experiencing only marginal success as a starter the previous two years in the minors - the O's called up Ray in June.

Now I can only hope he has George Mason's lasting power. Ray and the Patriots already have many similarities. Before this season, GMU had never won an NCAA Tournament game, having lost all three of its first-round games. Before opening day Monday, Ray had never recorded a big-league save, having blown all four of his opportunities last season.

"We just think Chris can do it," O's GM Mike Flanagan recently was quoted as saying. "He's closed in the minor leagues, and he did it in college. He's never been hesitant to throw his best pitches to any hitter at any level, including the major-league level."

"You're supposed to come in and get three outs," said Ray, who pitched a perfect ninth inning Monday for his first save. "It shouldn't matter whether it's the fifth inning or the ninth inning. That's how I've always thought about it. I don't want to make it more complicated than it is."

All things considered, it wasn't a complicated decision for me on fantasy draft day.




Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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