Orenduff makes it to the big time

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Early Monday afternoon, Justin Orenduff carried a cooler across the lawn of his grandparents’ Pitchkettle Point home and wondered when his dream would come true.

Ever since his childhood, Orenduff had always felt at home on top of a pitching mound, staring toward a batter that he couldn’t wait to mow down with strikes. &uot;Pitching is all I’ve done for my whole life,&uot; said Orenduff, a fixture in Western Branch Little League throughout his adolescence.

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Back when Orenduff’s father Andy started him off in the littlest of leagues, &uot;You could tell he had a really strong arm,&uot; Andy said. &uot;It’s been exciting watching him pitch through the whole process.&uot;

The next step in that progress was the Western Branch varsity team, which he helped to the 1999 Southeastern District regular season and 2001 tournament titles, as well as a pair of trips to the AAA state tournament quarterfinals. As icing on the cake for his senior year, Orenduff racked up a 7-1 record and ERA of 1.30, putting him on the First All-District team.

During his first year of college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Orenduff went 10-2 with a 1.69 ERA, tossing a team-leading 78 strikeouts over 59 innings. After helping the Colonials to the A-10 Tournament title, he was named to the All-Tournament squad, as well as the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American First team and the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-East Region Second team.

Orenduff transferred from the nation’s capital to Virginia’s after his freshman year, starting his second season at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he majors in business administration. He became one of the Rams’ top starters, opening 17 of their 46 games, ending with a 9-3 overall record and 120 strikeouts against just 26 walks.

By now, major league scouts were already finding out about the young hurler. In the summer of 2003, the entire world got a glance. Orenduff was picked to play for the USA National team, and went 6-0 with a 1.31 ERA, helping the squad to a silver medal at the Pan-American Games in the Dominican Republic (had the Olympics been in session, he’d have been going for a gold there).

&uot;That’s when it started to sink in,&uot; he said. &uot;I got a lot of exposure, and thought that I’d be drafted with the best players in the country.&uot;

Now fully aware of what they had on their hands, baseball teams started sending scouts, assistant general managers and other officials to watch Orenduff every time he pitched. He didn’t disappoint in 2004, firing up a team-leading 2.43 ERA and 129 strikeouts. &uot;As I was going through the year,&uot; he said, &uot;making the majors began to be a fusible goal, and I had to put up the numbers to solidify it. It was a lot to have on my shoulders, but it was still exciting.&uot; After the season, he was ranked as one of the nation’s top hurlers.

So it was with a barely-contained sense of anticipation that Orenduff waited for the draft to begin Monday. &uot;It’s a great feeling,&uot; he said. &uot;After years of hard work and dedication to the sport, I’m definitely excited to move on to the next step. It was always my ultimate goal to pitch in the majors.&uot;

As Orenduff and the rest of his family and friends put together the celebratory picnic, his grandmother Deidre Dickens poured sodas for all. &uot;We love giving parties, and we wanted to have everyone over for Justin’s special day,&uot; she said. &uot;We’re all so proud of him.&uot;

His mother Janice didn’t quite know how to feel. &uot;On one side,&uot; she said, &uot;he’s going to be going off, and I won’t be able to go up to see him every week. But it’s great that he’s in the draft, because he’s worked really hard and made a lot of sacrifices to get there.&uot;

Finally, as 1 p.m. neared, the group gathered around a large radio to hear the draft on radio@mlb.com. San Diego opened things by selecting local shortstop Matt Bush, and Old Dominion University’s Justin Verlander, a Team USA teammate of Orenduff’s, went second to Detroit. As one name after another blared from the radio, Orenduff’s eyes would momentarily brighten and shoulders raise, only to slump back down when the name wasn’t his. After the first round, he hadn’t been selected.

As the draft took a break, so did he on a nearby swing. &uot;I’m all right,&uot; he said with a shrug. &uot;I’ll be happy no matter where I get picked. One thing I always tell myself is that I’m not going to make money off my signing bonus; I’m going to make it when I get to the big leagues.&uot; Verlander called to ask if Orenduff had been selected yet, and a commentator on the radio expressed surprise that Orenduff didn’t go in the first round.

As the second round started, the crowd re-formed in front of the radio. This time, they wouldn’t have to wait long. Three names in, the words they’d waited to hear wafted through the speaker. &uot;With the 33rd pick, the Los Angeles Dodgers have selected… Orenduff, Justin, pitcher, Virginia Commonwealth University.&uot;

That’s when the party really got started. Everyone stood and cheered. Andy shook his hand and Janice hugged him, followed by virtually everyone else in attendance. His dream had come true, and everyone had been there to see it.

&uot;I think the anxiety’s over now,&uot; a grinning Orenduff said later. &uot;My next step is to pitch for them in the big leagues. I’m very eager to get out there and work hard for them. It’s a little bit of a shock, because I hadn’t really heard much from the Dodgers.

&uot;It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I think I’ll gradually absorb it throughout the day. Right now, I’m just really happy!&uot;