O's: Don't be a loner, owner

April 08, 2009|By RICK MAESE

Popular sentiment suggests Nick Markakis and Peter Angelos are more than casual Facebook friends. After all, they're both of Greek heritage. They probably attend the same church, visit the same butcher, brunch together on Sundays, right?

Actually, Markakis had never met the Orioles owner before this week. In fact, neither had most players in the clubhouse.

"I'd never even seen a picture of him," reliever George Sherrill said.

The Orioles' exciting Opening Day win over the New York Yankees on Monday was packed with drama and at least a couple of on-field shockers. But there were two things that surprised me most, both revelations from the post-game clubhouse:

1. To players, Angelos has been little more than a signature on a paycheck.

2. They wish he were much more.

This is going to sound like heresy in some corners of the Orioles kingdom, but could it be possible Angelos plays too small a role in his empire?

No one is suggesting we revisit the days when important baseball decisions were made by people who learned the game from the backs of baseball cards. But there has been a push to get Angelos more involved with the players. One game into the season, in fact, it's already a successful movement.

Angelos accompanied Vice President Joe Biden on a tour of the ballpark Monday afternoon. They stopped in the team's clubhouse and hung around for about a half-hour. Biden did most of the talking and Angelos most of the observing, according to those who were there.

"He cares about this organization, and he cares about the guys," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "He just doesn't want to be one of the owners who's here all the time."

But those who wear the uniform are hoping for a change. Dave Trembley and Andy MacPhail have been urging the Orioles owner to show his face more often, to get rid of the mysterious man-behind-the-curtain mystique.

Despite the public perception of a meddling owner, Angelos has had almost no interaction with his million-dollar chess set the past few years. While he hasn't been shy about advising past front office officials, he has had a hands-off approach when it comes to players and, for the most part, recent managers and coaches. The owner has, however, quietly picked up dinner tabs in restaurants. He has let players fish in his pond. He and his wife have sent congratulatory cards and gifts when some players have become fathers.

But face-to-face conversations? Angelos talks with his players about as often as Karl Rove and Barack Obama play pickup ball together.

In fact, there are only two players on the 40-man roster who had even met the owner before this week. Melvin Mora talked with him when he negotiated his last contract. And Roberts met Angelos two years ago after agreeing to his first extension.

"I'd like to see him come around more often," Trembley said, "and he told me that he would."

The manager showed Angelos around the clubhouse Monday, pointing out improvements in the training room and the X-ray room. "We had a nice conversation," Trembley said. "I'm hoping this homestand to hit him up for breakfast.

"He told me he'd pay," the manager quipped.

You might not think players would care, and admittedly I was surprised they cared so much, but it's about more than cultivating a warm workplace. To them, it's not as much a matter of identifying the guy who runs things as it is identifying with him, perhaps.

I like to believe most players aren't simply cashing paychecks, that they want to know whom they're representing and for whom they're playing, in the stands and in the owner's box.

"To see the owner, the guy who signs your check at the end of the day, it's good to see, to know his face," Adam Jones said. "Even if he comes once a month, three more times all year, just the opportunity to see him, it goes a long way in my mind."

Jones said meeting Angelos provided a jolt of adrenaline that carried into Monday's game. The center fielder went 3-for-3 and scored three runs in the season opener, which means Angelos might want to move his office to the service level of Camden Yards, right near the whirlpool, maybe.

OK, maybe Angelos doesn't deserve all the credit for hanging 10 runs on the Yankees (though we'll still heap responsibility on him for 10-plus years of franchise futility). But whatever makes the players in the clubhouse more comfortable should be embraced, particularly guys like Jones and Markakis, young players who should be a part of Baltimore's sports fabric for years to come.

If they say they want fresh apples every morning, ask them: red or green? If they want new music, put Sammy Sosa's old boom box on the curb. And if they want to know their owner better, then Angelos should visit his team more often. Sometimes that relationship carries some weight down the road. (See Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis.)

"I think it was good for the guys to see him," Roberts said. "Some people have never talked to him, never seen him. It was probably really good for them."

For Markakis, the presumed subject of the owner's devout man crush, the long-awaited introduction was short but meaningful.

"Hopefully, we'll see him some more around here," Markakis said.

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