Last year, Baltimore Ravens fans were "Wacco 4 Flacco."
By Flacco, they mean rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and was vital in the Ravens' success throughout the year, as they went 11-5 and 13-6, if you count the playoffs.
Flacco's hard-working attitude sold Baltimore residents, and people couldn't help but fall in love with his poise, work ethic, and, most of all, football abilities.
The other Baltimore sports team, the Orioles, weren't a team the city was crazy about. Since 1996, the O's have a total of zero winning seasons. However, most fans are convinced by Andy MacPhail's "rebuilding" plan. The last two seasons, MacPhail has made a few good trades and doing so has built the farm system.
In 2006, the O's farm system was near the bottom. Right now, it's ninth in all of baseball, and if you give MacPhail a few more years to develop all the talent, it'll be top five, no doubt about it.
The O's have some elite talent in the minors, like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brandon Snyder, Troy Patton, and others.
In the 2009 MLB Draft, the O's selected solid prospects early, like Matt Hobgood, Mychal Givens, and Tyler Townsend. In the 31st round, however, the O's selected Mike Flacco, a corner infielder out of Catonsville College in Baltimore.
The last name was all that mattered to some fans.
After getting drafted, the younger Flacco was upset he was drafted so low, but eager to prove himself.
"Yeah, I was disappointed that I didn't go sooner," said Flacco, "I thought I did pretty well at my workout at Camden Yards last week. Joe was pretty mad, too. But being ticked off is good motivation."
Just days later, Flacco signed his first professional contract, and would report to rookie league Bluefield. He struggled mightily in his first game, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout. However, you had to know he'd turn it around. He's got the hardworking attitude, plus, it is rookie league.
The very next game, he got his first professional hit, going 1-for-4 with a triple, but there was no one on base, so no run scored. Slowly, but surely, Flacco was impressing and showing that maybe this pick wasn't just a public relations move.
After going 1-for-8 his next two games, Flacco had a career game against the Kingsport Mets, going 4-for-5 with four singles, two runs, two RBI, and a walk. After that, his average went from .125 to .286. He followed the solid performance up with a 1-for-2 performance, walking three times and scoring three runs.
In nine games, Flacco has a .286 batting average (10-for-35), seven runs scored, four RBI, and a .375 OBP.
The "other" Flacco had some troubles to fight through.
As a sophomore in high school, he was tiny. At 5'6", 130 pounds, not many would even consider drafting him. However, he grew eight inches in one year, and from 2005 to 2008, he had some tough times.
At a prep school in 2005, he got a stress fracture playing football, and the very next year, he spurned a junior college baseball offer to play football, only because the baseball team didn't have a roster spot for him.
In 2008, he spent his days at a baseball academy with Julio Franco and several other baseball playing teenagers. Flacco came home in April to spend time with Joe, who would ultimately be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 18th pick.
Mike had gained the experience he would need to carry him, but he had been out of organized sports for two full years. Because Joe would be carrying his act to Baltimore, Mike would enroll at a community college in Baltimore called Catonsville. He conditioned with former Orioles strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop to get himself back in shape.
"I'm sure there were times he wasn't feeling great about what was going on, but I think he felt he was going to get over it and it just took longer than he wanted," Joe said. "At some point he knew he was going to get over it. He definitely wishes it would have been faster than it was, but he's really excited about what he's doing now."
He would be getting back in the swing of things, but one thing was a turnoff: He's a 22-year-old college freshman. He's the equivalent of a senior, but hadn't played in quite some time.
Before reporting to Bluefield, W. Va, Joe and Mike lived together in Pikesville, Maryland. They both lived regular lives despite being athletes in the spotlight, especially Joe.
Last year at Catonsville, Flacco hit .399, drove in 51 runs, slugged 14 homers, leading the team in hits, homers, RBI, and batting average—as a freshman.
While Flacco understands the critics assessment of him, he's confident he can make it big time.
"I know I'm a work in progress," he said. "But I shared an apartment with Joe [in Pikesville], and seeing what he went through last season reassured me that, if you work hard, it can be done. These [pro athletes] aren't superhuman. If Joe can be 'The Man' in football, why not me in baseball?"
Before the draft, Joe half-jokingly stated the O's should draft him. "It would be really neat if Baltimore ended up picking Mike," he said. "It'd be amazing if, in a couple years, he is in the big leagues and we were both winning—one for the Ravens and the other for the Orioles." The O's then drafted him in the 31st round.
Mike could be a third baseman or a first baseman. At 6'5", 220 pounds, he's a physically imposing presence. For the most part, he's been playing first base for Bluefield and batting cleanup, but the staff has also given him time at third base and designated hitter.
Whether he's one of the O's top prospects in the coming years remains to be seen. But he can certainly get himself there with the start he's off to.