01/29/10 4:58 PM EST
Bailey's number retired by Wagner College
Rookie of the Year honored in on-campus ceremony
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
Maybe it's because the Oakland pitcher's résumé received quite an upgrade last year. That's what happens when a one-time struggling Minor League starter makes a surprising jump to the big leagues as a reliever and an even more unexpected trip to the All-Star Game.
Don't forget about the American League Rookie of the Year honor, either.
But those in attendance at a Wagner College men's basketball game Thursday night in Staten Island, N.Y., know Bailey is anything but changed -- aside from the newly acquired Major League No. 40 he sports in green and gold.
The right-handed pitcher wore No. 17 in college, and during a special halftime ceremony Thursday, the Wagner community made sure it's never forgotten as Bailey watched his Seahawks number retired on the walls of the university's Spiro Sports Center arena.
In doing so, Bailey became the fourth Seahawk to have his number retired -- joining Joe Doyle (baseball), Alonzo Patterson (football) and Terrance Bailey (basketball).
"I remember going to that gym and watching all the home basketball games," he said by phone Friday morning on his way to work out his arm. "So I never thought I'd be there retiring my number, especially so soon. Wagner will always have a special place in my heart. That's where I spent four of my years, and that college really got me to the next level.
"It was a great honor. I was very, very surprised that they wanted to do that, but it was very nice of them and turned out amazing. It was good to see everyone and a nice reason to get together, and I feel very privileged to have had that honor."
The always appreciative Bailey, who graduated as the school's all-time strikeout leader in 2006, was surrounded by about 60 friends and family members -- including his parents, grandmother, fiancée Amanda and former college teammates -- for the presentation.
"It's so nice for it to be happening at a small school like this," said Wagner head baseball coach Joe Litterio. "To have one of my guys back here to retire his number was just a great honor. I think it all hit me when we stood out on the court in front of the huge crowd and listened to all of Andrew's accomplishments."
Perhaps equally significant for Litterio was the time Bailey spent beforehand in a locker room with the current Wagner baseball team, which soaked up any and all advice from one of only two Seahawks -- the other being 1965 AL ROY winner Curt Blefary -- to make the professional ranks.
"I basically told them you can have your fun in college," said Bailey, "but if you really want to take your game to the next level and have a shot at the big leagues, you have to put the time in and make sure you get into your own good routine -- something that works for you -- and stick with it.
"I wish I had that kind of advice when I was there because I would always try to mix and match stuff, which doesn't always work out. It is kind of weird being on the other end of the spectrum and being the one to give the advice, but I'm trying to help as many people as I can because it's not just my dream, but every kid's to put on a big league baseball uniform. So as long as they want to hear me talk, I'll give them advice."
It's safe to say the 25-year-old Bailey has found comfort in his own routine these days. He saved a rookie club record 26 games -- the last 21 consecutively -- in his first year of big league service. And based on Thursday night's agenda, 2010 is looking pretty promising for a guy who starred in a remarkable 2009 storybook.
"I'm trying to stay away from pinching myself to make myself realize it all because right now I'm on a rollercoaster ride and don't want to get off," he said. "Things have been really good for me this past year, and I'm just looking forward to this year and doing it again.
"Hopefully 20 years down the road when I'm done playing I'll realize how much this first year has meant to me. It does mean a lot to me, though. I understand a lot of things I've been doing, and it's just awesome to be able to do it at such a high level."
Said Litterio: "In my mind, he's had a better chance of anyone I've ever had at getting to the big leagues. No one could say he would get there that quickly, but he did, and I always thought he had the tools and the arm, obviously, to get to that level."
The 11th-year coach also firmly believes Bailey has the right mindset to stay there.
"Andrew's a great kid and always has been on and off the baseball field," Litterio said. "I watched him here for four years, and I don't think any of the fame has changed him one bit. The only thing that's changed is the stories have gotten a lot better. He's humble, and he's appreciative to everyone who has helped him."
In typical Bailey fashion, the A's righty will head to Arizona on Tuesday "to get out there early to get ready and focus on this upcoming season."
"I'm just looking forward to it, and I'm sure that as long as I continue to believe in the process and in the hard work and dedication that I put in during the offseason I can be successful," he said. "This whole year has been a new experience for me, and everyone wants to know how I did it. I honestly just took advantage of some opportunities given to me along the way by the A's and teammates."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.