It was the last day of the regular season for all MLB teams. In the bottom of the 9th inning, after Chris Davis doubled off of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon with two outs and two strikes, Nolan Reimold doubled to deep right-center to score Davis and tie the game at 3. Reimold then scored the game-winning run when Robert Andino hit a shallow single to left, capping off a late comeback and the end to one of the greatest collapses in Major League history. Almost simultaneously, the Yankees blew a seven run lead in the 8th inning to the Rays. Dan Johnson's homer squeaked over the wall in Tropicana in the 9th. Longoria's homer boomed the opposite way in extra innings. The Rays were in, the Red Sox were not and Reimold and the O's ended the season on a high note.
That day last September was a big topic of discussion at the Oriole's Fan Fest in late January. Video footage of the epic half of a 9th inning was played throughout the day to much applause, and the players eyed it fondly while waiting to go on stage to talk with Orioles season ticket holders. Nolan Reimold was no exception, and he said as much back stage. “I downloaded it on iTunes, the whole game,” he said when asked about whether he'd watched the footage since last Fall. He continued by saying, “I don't know how I found out. I downloaded it and watched a couple of times.” He seemed to enjoy viewing the now famous clip. “It was a fun moment to end the year and it's a highlight so far. I enjoyed watching it and reliving it.”
For Reimold that inning was the end to an up and down third season with the O's. He had 305 plate appearances in 87 total games, missing nearly half of the year due to injury. 2011 was in stark contrast to 2010, when he was hurt for most of the year and only played in 39 games. Unfortunately it was also in stark contrast to a 2009 rookie season that saw Nolan log a solid .831 OPS in 411 plate appearances and 104 games (his OPS in 2011 was .781). Still, he also nearly matched his slugging percentage from 2009 and hit a greater percentage of homers than in his rookie season (1 in 23 at bats in 2011 as compared to 1 in 28 in 2009). Overall, it was a solid bounce back year hitting wise, but still one he'll need to improve on if he wants to keep his projected starting spot after the spring.
When Nolan was asked back stage about the fact that his manager, Buck Showalter, had tentatively penciled him in as the left field starter, he responded enthusiastically. “That's great to hear, that's what I want to do,” he said of the starting job. “I feel like I can contribute most to the team [when] I'm in left.” When asked whether the full time job was his goal, Nolan was sure about the obvious answer. “Of course yeah, get out there and…play every day, I think that's everybody's goal.”
Nolan's play in the outfield is actually where he'll need the least amount of work as he contends for the full time spot in left field. He had his best statistical season in 2011 with a .981 fielding percentage while logging 73 games in left and 8 in right, an improvement from his 2009 percentage of .973. That year he also ranked among the league leaders when it came to advanced statistics like RF/9 (range factor per 9 innings) and RF/G (range factor per game) for left fielders. He would have been amongst the league leaders again in 2011 but he didn't play enough time in left to qualify.
Despite the solid fielding numbers, Reimold realizes that he needs to continue improving in every facet of his game. “You always feel like you need to prove something, you always wanna get better,” Nolan said when asked about whether he felt he had something to prove heading into the Spring. He followed that up with a poignant quote that most professional athletes can relate to, “I think once you lose that then it's time to stop playing.”
Don't expect Reimold to be one of those players that loses his drive for the game any time soon though. As we wound down the interview the 28 year old commented on how he's looking at the Spring and to his future with the Orioles. “That's what I wanna do, is always keep improving and keep getting better.” I think O's fans, and coaches, can all agree with that.