The roads that led Zane Chavez and Marcel Prado to Frederick have not been the most direct, nor have they been easy.
Chavez, a 5-foot-10, left-handed-hitting catcher, was drafted as an 18-year-old in 2005. Friday, at age 26, he spent his first opening day in affiliated baseball.
After four years of college baseball and four seasons of independent ball with five different teams, Chavez's last month has been dotted with firsts - his first spring training, his first practices with a minor-league club, the start of his first minor league season plus all the firsts that are inherent within those.
And the first time he saw his name on a minor league club's roster, he knew the first person he had to tell was Prado, a right-handed pitcher and his teammate with the El Paso Diablos, the independent club with which both finished 2012.
"When I did find out, that was the first person I went up to. I said, 'Congrats, bro. We did it,' " said Chavez. "It was pretty cool that I got to catch him last year, so I have that (going) for me. I know kind of his pitches and I know him a little bit better. It was really good and we were happy and proud of ourselves. We've gone from El Paso and independent ball to being a Baltimore Oriole."
A member of the O's system now, Prado, a 25-year-old Venezuelan native who stands at a lanky 6-foot-4, was signed as a teenager by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched two summers in the Dominican Summer League before coming stateside to pitch for the Dodgers' rookie ball team in Ogden, Utah in 2008. He reached advanced-A Inland Empire the following season, but was cut and has played in independent leagues and in Venezuela the last four years.
Prado was in spring training with the Washington Nationals last season, but was cut and then signed with El Paso. There, he and Chavez became battery mates for the final few months of the season, when Chavez arrived after starting the season with the Grand Prairie AirHogs.
Prado finished 2012 with a 3.38 ERA, 15 saves and 43 strikeouts in 50.2 innings pitched out of the Diablos' bullpen, and he credits a lot of his success to Chavez.
"Before he got there, I remember that I had 30 innings or something like that and I have just 10 strikeouts or eight strikeouts," he said. "And as soon as he gets there, I start to have a lot of strikeouts because I have a lot of confidence in him - the way he blocks the ball and the way he calls the game."
Prado signed with the Orioles in November and Chavez signed on Feb. 1. When Prado learned his El Paso teammate had also signed with Baltimore, he was excited, he said. Imagine his excitement when the pair ended up together again on the double-A roster in spring training.
Chavez and Prado both acknowledged the chemistry they have with one another, Prado adding that of all the catchers he threw to in spring training, Chavez is the only one he wouldn't shake off.
Chavez was a 19th round draft pick by Kansas City coming out of high school but chose to go to college rather than sign with the Royals. Last season, between Grand Prairie and El Paso of the independent American Association in 2012, he hit .339, driving in 51 RBIs and slugging four home runs in 70 games.
His goals this season aren't statistical, he said.
"My goal's just to win," said Chavez. "Help pitchers win their games and just get as many W's and we can and, you know, let the cards fall where they may."
Prado's mindset is team-oriented as well. And whether he's throwing to his teammate from El Paso or not, it doesn't matter. He's just happy that he and Chavez are both in Frederick, given the opportunity to contribute to a minor league team.
"I'm glad because he's here," said Prado. "He's another guy I can talk with, and either way I know he's gonna help me out, you know. And when they put him in to catch, they're gonna be glad, too. It's gonna be good."
Prado and Chavez both plan to make the most out of their opportunities with the Keys. Prado is getting his first shot in affiliated baseball in four years. Chavez is getting his first shot, period.
"It's been a dream first of all since I was little and then I didn't sign out of high school, so to have this opportunity late in my career has been a true blessing," said Chavez. "And I mean it's just been a great experience all the way through early camp and spring training and then to make a club, I'm just happy to be here."
There's no regret, Chavez said, over his decision not to sign after high school. The road he chose has led him here to Frederick, as a player in a major league organization.
The trip just took a little longer than he expected.
This story aired Saturday during Keys Corner and Sunday during the Frederick Gorilla Pregame Show on AM1450 The Source and wthu.org.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.