Bordick, Mike (2005)
So, what 1s the best story of the Mike Bordick professional baseball career that spanned July 1986 thru 2003?
A) scrawny 3°10” and (soaking wet) 169 Ib. kid from Hampden Academy goes up the street to state university, plays two College World Series at UMO before getting his big break in 1986 and making the most of it for an 18 year pro career? Maybe; or
Bb) UMaine shortstop makes it to the Major Leagues, played almost immediately in the 1990 Major League baseball World Series for Oakland (versus Cincinnati Reds), and for a manager, Tony LaRussa, who has called him “my favorite player, ever’? Not a bad resume entry; or
C) steady, # unspectacular shortstop from West Coast team signs three year deal! with Baltimore Orioles in December 1996 and is merely asked to be the player to replace the Iron Man and Living Legend, Cal Ripken, he of Gehrig record-breaking fame, lap-around-the-field fan adoration, and, according to some, savior of post-strike Major League Baseball, a task he performs with record-breaking relish, by the way? A good day at the office, most of us would say; or
D) ‘The Rhinoceros Story?
Let’s try (D), shall we?
“It was the summer alter my first year at Orono,” Bordick recalls. “1 was living in Portland for the summer and playing in the Twilight League. | had a job at the Portland Housing Authority, cleaning out apartments, doing maintenance, and stuff like that.
“My boss kept calling me “Rhino.
“Hey, Rhino, go clean out this unit for me.... Good Job, Rhino.... Hey, Rhino, | need some help moving this stuff over here, okay”... Thanks, Rhino.”
“Finally, | said, “What's with this name Rhino?”
“He said, “Do you know much about rhinos? | hey are strong, clean, self-reliant. They protect themselves. They battle thru a lot. They are dedicated to what they are doing. ‘They persevere.” “| said, OK.”
“He said, Well, you're a baseball player, right? You want to make it to the big leagues, right? And you tell me you’re going to do that? I think you will. You’re the Rhino.” Bordick took that story, adopted the nickname quietly as his own, and had some fun with it the next 20 years with family members.
“My brother gets me rhino stuff all the time whenever he travels--statues, Knick knacks, pictures. It’s sort of taken off. It’s something that has helped keep me going. I like the story of the rhino.” Bordick has a long list of people he always cites as important to his development as a ballplayer. [here 1s his father, a well known umpire in central Maine; his college coach John Winkin, who he says “gave me my first big break;” former MLB scout and current MLB GM J.P. Ricardi who recognized a regular looking kid summer of 1986 in the Cape Cod League and took a chance on signing him; LaRussa, who lights up when someone asks him about Mike Bordick; and many others--family, friends, college classmates, college teammates, a virtual Manhattan phone book of names from a guy who remembers where he started.
Do we buy it, though? Not John Winkin.
“You have to realize what Mike Bordick accomplished in his life, and in his career,’ Winkin says, his voice stopped to emphasize the drama of the moment. “Actually, you can’t. It is tough to appreciate what this young man did, and has done. from Hampden, Maine, to Maine, where we gave him a chance, and he produced, to getting signed, to getting a shot, and then doing what he has done for more than 10 years (later, to be close to 20 years). it’s just staggering. You do that because it is your goal to do it. You accomplish that goal because you are driven to accomplish it. Many of us were happy to be part of Mike’s journey. ”
The Bordick resume is impressive--even if the solid stats will have a tough time competing, years from now, with the rags-to-riches story of the kid from Hampden who Made it to The Big Lime because he was tough like the homely Jungle warrior, the rhinoceros.
“freshman year at Orono, 1984, played 32 games on the way to Omaha, hit .201, and, defensively, had 131 assists from shortstop, and 56 putouts, with 20 errors;
“junior year, 1986, another trip to the CWS, playing in 63 games for the Black Bears, hitting .364, with defensive stats that included 192 assists, 97 putouts, and 25 times E-6 (source: Black Bears Baseball by Augie Favazza and Alan Lessells, former Portland Press Herald reporters).
*then Oakland scout Riccardi signed Bordick as a free agent on the playing fields of Cape Cod 1n July 1986:
*played for Oakland in 1990 MLB World Series, getting back up time to regular SS Walt Weiss;
* solid seven year career with Oakland;
* signed with Baltimore December I996. Look over shortstop role from Cal Ripken, who had the set the Major League Baseball record for consecutive games played, and busted the Lou Gehrig record amid much nationwide media fanfare. Bordick was key member of Orioles team that appeared in postseason playoffs in 1997 and 1998;
*set American League record of 345 consecutive errorless chances at shortstop;
*had three strong power hitting years for the Orioles, with 15 home runs 1n 1998; !0 in 1999; and 16 in 2000. (Source: Topps Publishing Company, the manufacturer of many Mike Bordick baseball cards 1990 thru 2003);
*traded to the New York Mets near the July 31, 2000 trading deadline; played shortstop for the Mets in the 2000 World Series against the Yankees in the “Subway Series;” a hand injury limited his effectiveness 1n that series;
*some multi-year contracts, each worth $9 million or more, left the much-respected Michael Todd Bordick with some impressive life savings to support his family of wife, Monica, and five children. A good chunk of those funds come back to the state of Maine, where the Bordick clan makes regular visits to relatives in central Maine, and to a vacation retreat in Rangeley.
*at the end of 2002 season, his career stats showed ah impressive .259 MLB batting average, and steady 1,618 games played;
he played a final year with the Toronto Blue Jays as a jack-of-all-trades to an appreciative group of Jays management officials who had Maine ties--including former Sea Dog Manager Carlos Losca; Director of Player Development Dick Scott of and Base Coach Brian Butterfield (UMO ‘76 and son of the late Jack Butterfield);
“unlike so many other pro athletes, Bordick wanted to go out on a high note, and turned down some offers for one year contracts for the 2004 year, retiring rather than playing part-time in an admittedly flattering player-coach type role tor younger players. Bordick agreed to a spring training contract with the Blue Jays in 2005 to work with younger players in Florida, according to veteran Maine umpire Kevin Joyce, whose brother Ken is a minor league manager and in touch with many Maine-native players.
Current Oriole GM Jim Beattie, a South Portland native, and member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, says Bordick 1s part of a close baseball fraternity.
“I think those of us who are from Maine do keep our eyes on other guys from Maine,’ Beattie said in a Fort Lauderdale spring training interview. “Mike has done so well. We are all very proud of him. What a great career, and what a great honor for him.”
Oriole media director Bill Stetka says Bordick left nothing but friends with the Oriole organization.
“What a terrific guy, what a great player Mike was, and 1s, here,” Stetka said. “He was just really well thought of by everybody here--players, coaches, staff. He obviously performed very, very well on the field, but he also was just a class act in how he treated staff, and people in everyday jobs. He did the state of Maine well here.”