The Baltimore Orioles have been the dregs of the American League, but they're also baseball's ghost team.
Cubs East. It's as the Chicago team rolled on an angle eastward and a whole host of alumni came to a stop at Camden Yards.
The aggregation of hopeful or failed Cubs is astounding, but got little play this week as the Orioles came through U.S. Cellular Field. After all, ex-Cubs angles aren't particularly welcome there (they will be forced during the Yankees series with Joe Girardi and Kerry Wood in town). Manny Ramirez speculation and Oney Guillen's ill-advised Twitter against Kenny Williams made even the Sox-Orioles game storylines secondary.
But here was an astounding sight: the two most hyped and, subsequently, disappointing Cubs prospects of the 2000's, Corey Patterson and Felix Pie, playing both side-by-side in left and center fields, respectively, and batting back-to-back in the lineup Tuesday night. On Thursday, Patterson and Pie were again flanking each other in the outfield. Making it stranger, the locker room had Patterson and Pie dressing next to each other. Extending the linkage back to Wrigley Field even further, ex-Cub Jake Fox lockered on Patterson's left. Former Cubs shortstop Cesar Izutris dressed on Pie's right. A quartet of alumni, invited eastward by Andrew Bowen MacPhail, now Orioles GM.
I kept waiting for Hee Seop Choi to lumber out to first base and Will Ohman to cut loose a 59-foot curveball. Ooops, Ohman did have a little Baltimore run before being cut recently.
Cue the Twilight Zone theme. Pie batted .305 going into Thursday's game. Patterson was at .273. I don't recall such numbers too often north of Madison Street.
Former assistant Cubs pitching coach Rick Kranitz is Orioles pitching coach. Of course, former longtime Cubs minor-league skipper Dave Trembley was recently cashiered by MacPhail, with decidedly non-ex-Cub Buck Showalter now the celebrity manager.
As usual, the low-key Patterson, in his second tour of duty in Baltimore, did not see strange omens or portents in the huge Cubs alumni club.
"It seems in the last couple of years, the Cubs and Orioles always traded players and had a relationship," he said. "You see that with other teams, too -- one team always trades with another team."
Said the more animated Pie: "I think me and him have the same ability."
Also Orioles property is Luis Montanez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2000 draft. He was Jim Hendry's last top pick when he ran the draft before being elevated to GM-in-training by MacPhail in the second half of 2000.
Time stops for no one. Patterson is 31 now. He has also gone through the Reds, Brewers and Nationals organizations, never catching on as a regular.
"I still believe I can (stick), and whatever a team needs me to do to help them to win, I can do that," Patterson said. "I can start, come off the bench, I can be a backup, a part-time player. I think I'm still capable of playing every day."
Patterson was called up too soon and had to do his learning in the majors. He kept getting worse after a knee injury wrecked a potential All-Star season in 2003 and was almost booed out of Wrigley Field. Pie kept hitting above .300 in Triple-A, but swung like a rusty gate when called up to the Cubs. He ran afoul of an impatient Lou Piniella, who might have pulled the plug one year too early. He was up to .266 last year in Baltimore and now looks like he's starting to fulfill his potential.
The "what-if's" will never go away while Patterson and Pie are still playing. And the second-guessing only gets magnified when you see the pair together, bound forever by the stain of Cubness.