FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -When he first arrived in the big leagues in 2006, Nick Markakis struggled so mightily that it seemed obvious the Baltimore Orioles erred in thrusting him into the starting lineup at such an early stage in his development.
He batted .182 in April, and after 49 games was at .222 with two homers and 10 RBIs. Few could have predicted that in the span of two years, Markakis would develop into the Baltimore Orioles' most efficient hitter.
Terry Crowley did.
Baltimore's tireless hitting instructor worked daily with Markakis to make the necessary corrections. Success did not come immediately, yet Crowley saw enough to realize Markakis would one day fulfill his stature as the seventh overall pick in the 2003 amateur draft.
``Every day it was hard work. On the field early, in the tunnel before the game, just trying to scratch the surface,'' Crowley recalled. ``I would look at the previous night's films and see maybe a bad called strike three or a couple of well-hit balls that somebody caught. It would not be unusual for a player to say, 'I was 0-for-4 but could have two hits and the umpire got me once.' But never did he offer an excuse or complain.
``Right away I knew that he might have been 21, but I had a man on my hands, a man at a young age. That made it so much easier for him to grow.''
Markakis used a torrid August to close with a .291 batting average, 16 homers and 62 RBIs. He was even better last year, batting .300 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs in being named the Most Valuable Oriole by the media.
The right fielder still works often with his trusted hitting coach, but at this point there isn't much left to learn.
``I'd be lying to you if I didn't say all we have to do is maintain what we've developed,'' Crowley said.
Two years ago, however, back when Markakis was batting eighth in the lineup and shuffling into the clubhouse after a series of hitless performances, Crowley was invaluable to a young rookie on the brink of losing his confidence.
``Absolutely,'' Markakis said. ``The biggest thing is just going out there and working hard and practicing at it. I give Crow a lot of credit - mostly all the credit. He kept pushing me. He would be actually in the cage waiting for me if I wasn't there. When you have somebody like that, it makes it easier.''
Markakis is now a fixture in the 3-hole and by far the team's most potent hitter. When the Orioles renewed his contract this season and provided him with a $55,000 raise, the sports call-in shows in Baltimore were buzzing about the injustice of it all.
Markakis might be worth more than the $455,000 he will receive this season, but he understands the system and figures to earn plenty when he becomes eligible for arbitration next year.
``I'm not angry, mad at anything or anybody. It's more along the lines of, I'm a little disappointed. That's their right,'' he said. ``It's something I have to deal with. I'll move on and put it behind me.''
When discussing the players he works with, Crowley usually speaks analytically and with little emotion. When talking about Markakis, he can't mask the gleam in his eye.
``When I look at a hitter, I think, where is the opposition going to go? They're going to try this or that, but I don't know where they can go right now. He's a very good fastball hitter, very good off-speed hitter, lays off bad pitches,'' Crowley said.
``I might be out of line saying this, but I think he's starting to feel like he's pretty darn good. Which is awesome,'' Crowley added. ``I want every one of my hitters to feel like that. It's tough enough to just get to the major leagues, but to play every day and put up numbers, now you're talking about an elite few. And I think Nicky falls into that category.''

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