SARASOTA, Fla. — Nick Markakis doesn't want your sympathy, though he definitely deserves some.
The guy suffered through so many of those terrible years when the Orioles organization was wandering through the desert, and then he had to sit in the dugout last October and watch his teammates enjoy the team's first playoff run since 1997.
That's just not fair. Markakis has been the good soldier since he broke in with the Orioles in 2006. He has led by example. He has provided production and stability in an otherwise dysfunctional environment for most of his career. He is, by any measure, a terrific player and solid human who deserves the best that professional baseball has to offer.
So, he could certainly be forgiven for cursing the fates after a pair of freak injuries basically cut his season into thirds and the second one cost him the thing that every true gamer wants more than money or fame — the chance to go for the ring.
Markakis knows what he missed, but he doesn't think it's fair to the players who battled their way to the playoffs without him to make too much of his inability to join them in their postseason quest.
"You can't look at it that way,'' he said. "Everything happens for a reason and a lot of people get injured. Some teams' best players are injured going into the playoffs, but that's the whole purpose of the team. It's a team sport and Nate [McLouth] did a good job of filling in when I went down, so it's hard to say what could have happened. Hopefully, we'll move on and get further this year."
These things are true. McLouth moved into the leadoff spot after New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia broke Markakis' left thumb with an inside pitch in early September. McLouth did a fine job both at the plate and in the outfield, so it's impossible to say what would have happened if Markakis had not gotten hurt, but it's fair to say that — on balance — the Orioles are a much better team with Markakis in the lineup than without.
But it goes way beyond that. Markakis is more than just the Orioles right fielder and the smooth hitter who jumpstarted the Orioles lineup when he moved into the leadoff spot last year. He's one of those heart-and-soul guys whose spirit runs through the entire clubhouse, so his loss was felt both on and off the field and his disappointment was felt by all of his teammates.
Manager Buck Showalter still gets a little emotional thinking about it. He remembers when Markakis came back to the dugout with his hand in a soft cast on that devastating night. Showalter isn't really the type to give hugs, but he walked over and put his arm around Markakis and tried to console him.
"I'd like to say it was painful for me, but you can imagine how painful it was for him,'' Showalter said. "I was watching something the other day of the postgame in Texas and Nicky was the first guy on the field [to congratulate his teammates after their American League wild card playoff victory]. A lot of these guys have been here for their whole professional career. The Orioles mean something to them and that's pretty cool."
That's why Markakis, who acknowledges how miserable it was to be on the outside looking in during the club's uplifting playoff run, voices no regret about last season, other than the fact that it came to an end a couple of playoff rounds too soon.
"All around, it was a good year team-wise, but it was tough for all of us at the end,'' he said. "I think my injury at the end kind of sent me overboard a little bit more than other guys because we know the season ended and it didn't end the way we wanted it to end. But you always have a next year, and I think guys realize that. We learned from it. I think guys are much more motivated to get back where we were and get further."
For all the offseason criticism the front office took for not adding a big bat to the Orioles lineup for the 2013 season, you can make the case that the Orioles will be improved anyway. Markakis is healthy and knocking the cover off the ball in early workouts. The Orioles also hope to have Brian Roberts back after three years of injuries and frustration, and left fielder Nolan Reimold back after neck surgery.
Markakis admits that the offseason felt way too long for a change.
"I would probably say I'm the only one who wanted to get here quicker than anybody else,'' he said. "Like I said a hundred times, stuff like that happens and you just got to learn how to deal with it. You move on, and hopefully later on there won't be any more instances like this, but you can't predict it. It's a game and things happen. It motivated me to get back quicker from these injuries, from the time I lost during the season. I was eager to get here and I'm ready."
Showalter kind of figured he would feel that way. Markakis is a ballplayer, and we're talking about more than the dictionary definition of that.
"I don't want to say it's a whole new Nick,'' Showalter said. "He's always engaged. He's always getting ready. He's always professional. He's always a good teammate. But this year, you can tell he's really excited to be back playing baseball and having the season in front of him."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app