Get to know Baltimore's newest Oriol, the racecar driver

IndyCar driver embraces the Orioles, hopes to win here

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Baltimore, you should root hard for Oriol Servia in Sunday's big Grand Prix race.

For one thing, the guy's name means oriole in Spanish.

"Right?" he says. "It's a natural!"

And the 38-year-old Spaniard has totally embraced his connection to this town and its baseball team since finishing second to Australia's Will Power in last year's race.

Servia even has two orioles painted on each side of his racing helmet next to a surreal image of the great Salvador Dali, his countryman.

Not only that, but Servia just threw out the first pitch before the Orioles' 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox Thursday.

So the guy's a good-luck charm, too. How could he NOT be the favorite of race fans in this town?

"I know!" he says. "Last year when I finished second and they said my name, everybody went kind of crazy!"

This is really the way Servia talks. Everything he says sounds like it should have an exclamation point tacked on.

But back to that wonderful first name: Oriol. Whatever you do, don't confuse it with the name of a certain. ... well, let him tell it.

"I came to the States to race in '98," he says. "Every time I say my name — every time! — they say: 'Oh, like the cookie.' And I'm like: 'Nooo!' I hate when people think it's like the cookie! I don't hate the cookies. But, it's like: 'Nooo, the Baltimore Orioles!' This is what I've been saying for the last 14 years!"

Servia's emotional ties to Baltimore are so strong now that he still gets worked up about meeting a certain local swimmer at last year's post-race awards ceremony.

"Yes! Michael Phelps gave me the trophy!" he says. "It's one of the best pictures I have, ever! I hope he comes back this year! I hope he's in town!"

And when Servia describes throwing out the first pitch the other night at Camden Yards, you wonder if he's actually going to hyperventilate.

"It was awesome!" he says. "I was nervous! I never played baseball! In Spain, we don't play baseball."

To prepare for the big day, he picked the brain of his team owner, Dennis Reinbold, a former baseball player. At last week's race Sonoma, Calif., the two worked on smoothing out the lefty's delivery.

Neither man expected Servia to turn into Cliff Lee or C.C. Sabathia, or even Wei-Yin Chen. They just hoped to get him to the point where he wouldn't embarrass himself in front of thousands of fans.

"I threw 10 balls!" he says. "He gave me some tips."

Still, Servia was vibrating like a gong when he stepped onto the mound Thursday. Orioles catcher Taylor Teagarden was behind the plate, not that Servia noticed.

"I have no idea," he says of who caught the pitch. "Even if they mentioned who it was, I was too nervous to catch his name. But I did fine. I was happy."

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