By July, McLouth was crushing the ball. The Orioles had noticed, but they didn't have obvious room for another lefty outfielder. So McLouth forced their hand.
He had an opt-out clause in August if he wasn't promoted to the majors. He exercised it, believing that he had resuscitated his game enough that another club would call if the Orioles let him go. Instead, they waived veteran outfielder Endy Chavez and promoted McLouth on Aug. 4.
"You know how much trust I have in Ron [Johnson] and our minor league people and their evaluations. And how much confidence I have in John Russell, and he had the guy when he had his best year ever," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "[McLouth] knows the criteria here and he knows we get him. We get what he brings. And we're fans of it."
McLouth has flourished offensively and defensively for the Orioles, playing in all but one game since his recall and, for nearly a month, filling in at leadoff after Markakis broke his left thumb Sept. 8. Through Thursday, McLouth was batting .274 with a .349 on-base percentage, six homers and 10 steals.
His resurgence ranks as one of the biggest surprises in this inexplicable Orioles' season. But not for those who knew him when.
"The last couple years were the fluke. He is so much better than that," Doumit, his former teammate, said. "There's a lot of baseball left in him. This is maybe just what he needs."
Says McLouth's father: "I think a good word for Nate is overcomer. He has kept the faith and refused to accept failure. … Buck likes saying that if you get your nose bloodied you've got to go back out there. Well, Nate's gotten knocked out, knocked right off his feet and he keeps getting back up."
"Stronger and better because of it"
McLouth keeps doing it because he is a baseball player; he's never wanted to be anything else. He still has no idea what he'll do when his baseball career ends.
As a 2-year-old he could take a round plastic bat and launch a Wiffle Ball over the family's one-story home. As a 4-year-old he could catch any pop-up thrown to him, no matter how high. As a high-schooler he was drafted in the 25th round because he was set on playing at the University of Michigan, but he couldn't refuse the Pirates' eye-popping $400,000 offer.
Yet, in the past three years, he admits he occasionally thought about quitting. Something kept gnawing at him, though. Maybe it was his deep religious faith or his "overcoming" nature, but he had to give his career another shot.
"It's part of the path that God has laid out for my life. And I don't question it. Were the last couple years tough? Heck yeah they were. But I know I am stronger and better because of it," he said. "Baseball is a funny, funny game. Two months ago look where I am at and then today. It's an awesome blessing to be here."
McLouth, who will be a free agent at season's end, would like to return to the Orioles in 2013, and the club would like to have him back. So many things can change between late September and this winter, however, that it's hard to predict what will happen.
For now, the club and the player are just enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship. No one is asking why; they're just thrilled that Nate McLouth, somehow, is Nate McLouth again.
"When you look at guys that have done it, and then basically have gone down the wrong career path, you start thinking, 'Man, if we can just get this guy to come back up, we've got something good,'" Norfolk's Johnson said. "It's still all there, it's never gone anywhere.
"I mean, he is the best story of the year. He's got to be."
The Nate McLouth file
Full Name: Nathan Richard McLouth
Born: 10/28/1981 in Muskegon, Mich.
Weight: 180 lbs
Family: Wife Lindsay, no children
Draft: Taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 25th round of the 2000 amateur draft
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