It was spring 2004, and 14-year-old Trent Howard sat glued to his radio, listening as Bishop Noll reliever Andy Loomis helped the Warriors top Wapahani 2-0 for the Class 2A state championship.
This days Howard doesn't need to dial up the radio to keep track of his fellow region native. Loomis recently signed with the Frederick Keys, the Class-A minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles where Howard already played. Now the local lefties are teammates and roommates, both pursuing a dream of making it in the major leagues.
“Once I got picked up in the Rule 5 draft, I figured I’d finally meet the kid everyone talks about,” Loomis said.
What are the odds the only left-handed pitchers from each school who’d make it recently to pro baseball would end up as teammates and roommates 700 miles away?
The 30 major-league organizations field at least a half-dozen minor-league teams each. The numbers are pretty staggering against Loomis suddenly alighting in Frederick to buddy up with Howard.
“Small world,” said Howard.
But the instant friendship of pitchers who grew up three miles from each other — Howard in Hammond and Loomis in Whiting — still required the personnel machinations for which baseball is famous.
Howard, the Orioles’ seventh-round draft choice out of Central Michigan in 2011, began this season in lower-A Delmarva (Md.) of the South Atlantic League. He was promoted to Frederick of the Carolina League in mid-May.
Meanwhile, Loomis bounced through the Florida Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies organizations since he was drafted out of Purdue in the 16th round in 2008. Loomis briefly pitched for Triple-A Norfolk, but was demoted to Frederick in May to make room for 49-year-old Jamie Moyer in his brief tryout for the Orioles.
“Might as well room with him and get to know him because we have a lot in common and are from the same area,” Loomis said.
It’s no “Odd Couple” arrangement. Howard and Loomis both bunk in a host family’s home in Frederick. Howard pays $250 a month rent, while Loomis gets an even greater bargain at $150. They are also road roomies, carefully apportioning their $25-a-day meal money.
Howard is still a prospect learning how to reconcile a finesse style that dominated college hitters with the higher level of competition in Class A. He’s had some rough outings with a 1-4 mark and 4.99 ERA in nine games that prompted a temporary demotion to the bullpen.
A cerebral pitcher, Howard must learn he’s not in Hammond anymore.
“There was a guy on second with two outs and their best home-run hitter up,” he said of a recent game. “On deck was a lefty I had owned throughout the game. He wasn’t seeing the ball out of my hand.
“The guy ends up taking me for a two-run homer. It was a mistake on my part. I’ve got to be aware there’s a base open and two outs. I don’t have to give this guy anything good.”
Loomis is now typecast as a relief specialist against left-handed hitters. At 26, he has to guard against being a suspect instead of a prospect.
“I still want to make it to the big leagues,” Loomis said. “Age doesn’t bother me. It’s just the love of the game. It would be hard to ever walk away from it.”