BALTIMORE – Being back around the Birds is giving Manny Machado the butterflies.
“I’m a little more nervous today to come there,” said Machado, now with the San Diego Padres, as he returned to Camden Yards on Tuesday for the first time since being traded to the Dodgers last July. “I’m never nervous. I don’t, I guess it’s like a weird nervous, in a way. It’s just different.”
Machado was drafted by the Orioles in 2010, when he was the third overall selection behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon. He debuted with the Orioles on August 9, 2012, and helped turned a moribund franchise into a contender, as Baltimore made the postseason three times during Machado’s time there.
A four time All-Star who’s known just as much for his defensive prowess as his slugging ability, the 26-year-old third baseman won a pair of Gold Gloves with the Orioles. In 2013, he also won the Platinum Glove, an award given to the best defender in each league.
Instead of trading Machado following the 2017 season, with a year left on his contract, the Orioles opted to keep him in hopes of making a return to the playoffs. But Baltimore quickly faded from the playoff picture, leading to rampant speculation that the O’s would ship him to a contender. On July 18, 2018, the day after making his fourth All-Star appearance, Machado was dealt to the Dodgers, where he slid over to his natural position of shortstop and was part of Los Angeles’ World Series run.
In February, Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. At the time, it was the largest free-agent contract in the history of North American pro sports. On Tuesday, a couple hours before the opener of a two-game set between San Diego and Baltimore, Machado admitted that leaving as part of a trade was the lesser of two evils.
“I didn’t make the choice. It was made for me. So it makes it a little easier,” Machado said. “They just ship you away and you’re going somewhere else, across the country, and trying to meet new faces. It’s hard. But I don’t think any of the choices are easy. When you’re here for so long in a place that you call home, you see the same faces every day, the same people, it grows on you. To leave like that halfway through the year, it kind of sucks.”
As for his return, besides having steamed crabs for dinner (which he said he’ll do after Tuesday’s game), Machado doesn’t have any expectations.
“I don’t expect anything. I expect to go out there and play baseball and win, and just enjoy myself like I do every day. You really can’t expect anything. Whatever happens, happens. You just take it and enjoy every moment of it like I do every time. I know it’s the first time coming back. I’m going to see a lot of fans that supported us seven years, that I saw at third base, that I saw in the on-deck circle, I saw in the first row. Those faces will never be forgotten. Those fans were always there for us every single day. To see them again, it’s going to pretty fun to see those faces again.”
Chances are Machado will see fewer faces than he saw during his time in Charm City. Entering Tuesday’s action, the Orioles owned baseball’s worst record at 22-56 and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance, with an average of 16,758 fans per game.
The Padres, led by Machado and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., were 38-40 entering Tuesday and three games out of the second wild-card spot in the National League.
In 76 games with San Diego this season, Machado is hitting .278 with 16 home runs and 47 RBIs.