"Still, though," they'd reply. Then they'd sort of drift off and stare out the window, hoping silently that you'd go away.
You wouldn't; you would just stare at them with a hardening glare, as if to say, "Why call people things that they aren't? It just heaps pressure on an already stressful situation for a group of young athletes."
The answer is, "Baby Aces" sure looked good on a t-shirt.
The year was 2011, and everywhere we looked, there were aces. There was Roy Halladay, running up the outfield steps with a rhinoceros strapped to his back. There was Cliff Lee, shrugging. There was Roy Oswalt, chewing. There was Cole Hamels, being bitched out in an internet comment section.
"How many days until aces and catchers report to spring training?" we'd ask each other with a gentle elbow and a tremendous wink, infuriating Craig Calcaterra.
It was certainly a wonderful idea, that there was a crew of younglings in the minors, waiting to take over the mantel of "ace staff" once the vets had grown old and been safely transported into their suspension chambers and blasted off into space, to orbit the earth as satellites for eternity. Guys like Brody Colvin, Jonathan Pettibone, Trevor May - we called them "The Baby Aces." The problem was, it simply wasn't true.
Jarred Cosart, Julio Rodriguez, and May had impressive 2011 seasons with Clearwater; Pettibone struck out 115 that year; I was never really sure how Brody Colvin's name always got thrown in there.
Now, four years removed, that ambiguously defined group has all but vacated the organization, their lives taking turns that perhaps even a crazed public high on Ace Madness could not foresee.
Status: Released, yesterday
Colvin made it resoundingly clear: Before he figured out baseball, he needed to work some other stuff out. And that stuff happened outside of bars at two in the morning.
Status: Traded to Baltimore
In return, the Orioles sent us Ronnie Welty, a guy who sounds like a children's literature character covered in horrible welts that learns how to live in a society that shuns him. It's society that needs to change, Ronnie, don't let them - Jesus Christ, your welts are hideous. Don't come over here.
Welty, now a 26-year-old outfielder, last played in 2013 for the Reading Fightin Phils, for whom he hit .162 with a .463 OPS and 36.6% K rate in 41 plate appearances. This was not good enough to get him into the New Baby Aces: the College Years, a squadron of sizzling young Phillies hurlers who are just starting out in life. Also, he was not a pitcher. But we were really stretching for cast members.
Through 156.2 innings, Rodriguez struck out 168 Florida State League hitters in 2011, but scouts were not fooled by this trickery, saying the bottom would fall out, command-wise. It did, and Rodriguez regressed to the norm, and then regressed to the Cubs, in whose farm system he now exists at the Double A level. He's made three starts this year, throwing 14.2 innings and giving up nine runs, 10 strikeouts, and 13 walks.
Status: Traded to Minnesota
As a far more successful 22-year-old than I was, May was beating the Eastern League as recently as two years ago, at one point throwing 23 innings, with 26 strikeouts, eight walks and a 2.35 ERA.
Sadly, in between then and now, May was traded to the Twins with poor, poor Vance Worley for Ben Revere, because apparently the Phillies are a baseball team that employs the archaic notion of "we have to have a center fielder."
May's K rate has stayed above 9.00; his walk rate has dropped below 4.00. His latest performance with the Twins' Triple A team - one that elicited a thunderous wave of joy from an adoring crowd - has people saying things like, "It's time to call up Trevor May." His heater is sizzling at 95 m.p.h. and he struck out 11 Pawtucket Red Sox to add to his kill count of 78, which is second in the International League.
Status: Having shoulder explored by surgeons
Science couldn't figure out what was happening to Jonathan Pettibone, so they had to open up his pitching arm and see just what the devil was going on in there. What they discovered will shock you: a complex system of nerves, muscles, and bones that, when operating together, provide the protection and movement one needs to rotate their arm in a forward fashion.
"Yeah, that's just how a normal human body looks on the inside," scientists said. "Anyways, his labrum was torn."
A month ago, Pettibone had the same problems, and he chose to get a cortisone shot instead of deal with his problems. His body swallowed that cortisone and immediately began begging for more, and, well, here we are.
Status: Traded for Hunter Pence
Cosart was part of a group of Phillies farmhands who were piled into a tractor trailer late at night and, many hours later, squinted from the harsh burn of daylight as the doors flung open and they realized they were in Houston and they were never going home again.
Cosart responded well to this, and when the Astros rewarded him with an MLB debut last year, all he did was flirt with a no-hitter at the age of 23 before being sent back down to the minors.
Not this year, though. Cosart has quietly made 15 professional starts in Houston, going 88 innings with 60 K's and 35 walks. Most recently, he smothered the Rays with a an eight-inning shutout performance before handing things over to Chad Qualls, who doesn't destroy everything he touches anymore.
Meanwhile, Hunter Pence led his team to a 2012 World Series championship. Unfortunately, that team was the Giants. In 2013, he successfully avoided arbitration with San Francisco, and then joined the team in successfully avoiding the playoffs. His acquisition by the Phillies in 2011 is widely considered one of Ruben Amaro's more bamboozling follies.
The Baby Aces are mostly gone now. We're left with names like Jesse Biddle, Severino Gonzalez, Adam Morgan, and Ethan Martin to carry on and be called things that maybe they are not.
The Adult Aces are also half gone, lifting the demented haze in which we lived and through which we viewed our young pitching talent. And perhaps in the future, we can relax a bit, temper our expectations, and at least, if a staff of true fireballers does emerge from the farm system, give them a little more intimidating of a nickname.