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- ‘Baltimore will always have a piece of my heart’: On the eve of his return, Manny Machado reflects
- Brittany Ghiroli Jun 23, 2019 40
- PITTSBURGH — Keep it, just in case.
- It’s how Manny Machado approached everything last year. Jerseys and batting gloves. Cleats and smaller memorabilia. Things he had never thought twice about, he hung on to.
- “Obviously, I knew it was probably going to happen,” Machado said Saturday of the midseason trade that sent him from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers months ahead of a free agency that saw him sign a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres.
- “So, I made sure to keep everything.”
- He held on to moments, too. Home runs and handshakes. Running down that orange carpet in center field. It still brings a smile to Machado’s face. The fireworks, the fans, the kids. The whole city was taking an unofficial holiday to go ballistic.
- “Every Opening Day in Baltimore was freakin’ unbelievable,” Machado said when asked what stood out most in his seven years in Charm City. “Those memories are some of the best ones you can have that I’ll always have.”
- Those black-and-orange jerseys are hanging up in his batting cage. Machado is in the process of doing “something nice” with the rest. There will always be Orioles gear in his home. Before he was the Padres’ big prize, the headline-grabber in last year’s postseason and Baltimore’s most prominent trade chip, Machado was a skinny first-round pick who symbolized hope for a downtrodden franchise. He was a 20-year-old phenom called up to play a new position in a postseason race and part of three playoff runs in five years that put Orioles baseball back on the map.
- Machado was not The One Who Got Away; that title is more apt for outfielders Adam Jones or Nick Markakis. He was The One You Knew They Couldn’t Afford, a generational talent Orioles fans irrationally hoped could somehow, some way, always be theirs.
- “Do you ever wish …” you begin.
- “That it ended better?” Machado interjects. “One-hundred percent.”
- Wearing a custom brown “ManDiego” T-shirt, basketball shorts and flip-flops, Machado talks excitedly about how quickly he and his wife, Yainee, have fallen in love with the city of San Diego and the Padres organization. The food, the beaches, the weather. Any initial hesitation about being on the other side of the country from their family and permanent home in Miami has long dissipated, replaced by some good-natured bragging to his brother-in-law Yonder Alonso from the couple’s beautiful digs in Coronado.
- It’s a ridiculously lovely day in Pittsburgh, hours before Machado — a night removed from a home run in his 1,000th career game — will homer again, this time in a 6-3 loss to the Pirates. It’s only June, far too early to live and die with every game. But this road trip has always been on his radar. Baltimore looms next, and there is no denying the tug of emotion.
- There will be a visit to his favorite mom-and-pop restaurant in Locust Point with Yainee and a few small things planned for Monday morning. He’s a tourist now, Machado jokes. He repeats the line “a tourist in Baltimore” like it hasn’t hit him just yet. Yes, he is happy, and yes, he is rich. But it doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to feel things.
- “There is 100 percent (more emotion than people realize),” Machado said. “I got drafted by Baltimore. I came up there. I got my first hit there. I got my first everything there. It was home for us for eight years, you know?
- “We were comfortable there. That was our place. That’s why it’ll always be part of my heart. Baltimore will always be special, no matter who says anything, whether they boo (me), whether they cheer. Baltimore will still be a part of who I am — part of my heart, part of my family. And that will never change.”
- The 26-year-old has been waiting for this day, for a return to Camden Yards, for nearly a year. Since he walked off the field midway through that July 15 game against Texas, two days before the All-Star Game, rain falling and rumors swirling.
- “I think they knew already,” Machado said of the Orioles’ deal with the Dodgers, which wasn’t made official for four days. “I came out of the game. I was like, ‘OK, I’m probably getting traded, but you got to let me know where I’m going. You’re sending me across the country; you’re not sending me a couple blocks away.’ I think we would have liked a little more respect, knowing we could have kept a secret and could have kept that between us and at least given us a little bit of time to settle in and get things in place.”
- Major League Baseball frowns on clubs making news during jewel events like the All-Star Game. Still, Machado felt in the dark on the grandest stage, in D.C., with hundreds of inquiring reporters and no idea where he was headed. In a small closet in the bowels of Nationals Park, he met with a few regulars on the Orioles beat to say goodbye shortly before first pitch.
- “You guys would tell me if you knew where I was going,” a choked-up Machado said. “Right?”
- By the end of the game, he sort of knew. The Dodgers were the rumored team. But it wasn’t for sure.
- “It was never for sure,” said Machado, who was determined not to let the uncertainty ruin his All-Star experience. He was, along with other big free-agent-to-be Bryce Harper, the talk of D.C. But while Harper declared in spring training that he wouldn’t discuss his contract status or future, Machado patiently held court, answering the same questions in every city from Opening Day on. It’s part of the job as he sees it, and Machado doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.
- “There’s going to be some people who ask some dumb questions,” Machado said. “And I probably gave some dumb answers right back.”
- Yes, Machado will be the first to acknowledge there are quotes he’d like to take back. Self-inflicted wounds have made him an easy villain in opposing cities and thrust him into controversy. There is one thing, though, that he’d like to make clear: When he told Sports Illustrated this spring that the Orioles “didn’t show me a little bit of love,” that had nothing to do with the city or the fan base.
- “It was more of ownership and the business side that could have handled things better,” Machado said. “I’m disappointed in how it happened. They could have let me know where I was going when they already knew. It’s little things like that, where you have to handle four days of not knowing and all these questions (at the All-Star Game) in your face.
- “There was a lot of situations (in the past) where we reached out, and we wanted to stay there, and they kept saying, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re going to call you back. And we’re going to talk.’ And we’re still waiting for that call. That just sums up the whole summary of why I said that (to SI). It had nothing to do with the fans. I loved the fans. It was unbelievable playing in front of those guys every single night and day. They were always there cheering us on. Whether we were sucking or balling out, it didn’t matter; they supported us through everything.”
- Did Machado want to stay at some point? There was always the idea that a talent like his would price himself out of Baltimore. Earlier in his career, the two sides explored an extension. But then Machado got hurt. Two consecutive season-ending knee surgeries. Maybe there was a window. Perhaps not.
- “In 2015 they were like, ‘All right, we might talk this offseason. We’ll give you a call,’” Machado said. “The call, well, who knows?
- “There was a lot of guys who did (want to stay). It goes back to the Markakis era. You have a guy who signed here, came up here, wanted to stay here, and they just kicked him to the curb. Like, ‘Hey, on to the next.’ He wanted to stay there. He had a family there; his kids go to school there. He wanted to stay there. It just tells you everything. Adam bought a house there. Adam wanted to stay there. But it’s business. You can’t fault the business side of stuff. People need to understand, when we come out and speak publicly about the business side of things, it’s never against them. We always love our fans. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be out there playing a game. I feed off their energy. Sometimes things happen, and it’s just part of the business.”
- That business has led him to San Diego, where Machado is — ironically enough — one of the veterans. A few weeks shy of his 27th birthday, Machado gushes about his teammates and jokes 20-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. helps “keep him young.” Ownership has blessed him beyond belief, and he truly believes he was meant to be here now, to be part of a new Padres era. There are similarities he sees between this San Diego team (38-39) and those Orioles, both with a brimming crop of young talent and a franchise hoping to turn things around. Except for this time, he’s not the young hotshot coming into winning. He’s the Jones or Markakis, the experienced player who can see the potential brewing.
- “I’m the old vet now,” Machado jokes. “There’s too many young players here.”
- No matter how many birthdays pass, Machado vows not to dial things down. He’s still smiling, still joking around between innings. Having Tatis Jr. beside him makes it easy. It also gives him a new appreciation for what former Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy did for him. The pair spoke the other day on a FaceTime call with Jonathan Schoop, who gleefully punched in his best friend’s number from Minnesota so the three could reminisce.
- “Those relationships, that’s why it was hard for us to leave Baltimore,” Machado said. “But at the end of the day, these are just uniforms. What we built with those people, those friendships will always last.”
- His new teammates have trickled out to the field. Machado, who joked he no longer gives interviews, has been talking for a half-hour. There isn’t much left to say. He says he doesn’t have any expectations for how he will be received as a visitor at Camden Yards. He’s in a good spot now and is just excited to return.
- “It’ll always be like that,” he said. “It’ll always be part of my life, part of my legacy, part of everything about baseball for me. Baltimore will always have a piece of my heart.”
- (Cover Photo: Denis Poroy / Getty Images)
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