Great expectations rest on Orioles third baseman Manny Machado -- including his own

March 18, 2013|By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — Another day, another inquiring mind wanting to know what it's like to be baseball's next big thing.

Manny Machado is ushered into the large conference room at the Orioles' Ed Smith Stadium training complex, his attention quickly drawn to the portraits on the far wall. Brooks Robinson. Frank Robinson. Boog Powell. Cal Ripken. All in a row.

"Someday," he says almost sheepishly, "I want to be up on that wall."

Someday, he probably will, but first things first. There is the small matter of living up to the advance billing and Machado instinctively knows that he won't be able to do that if he takes his eye off the ball.

Or, at least, he knows as much as a fairly savvy 20-year-old can possibly know about life and success and all the craziness that may lie ahead if he meets the outrageous expectations that have followed him from tiny Miami Brito Private School to the major leagues. That's why he's trying so hard to keep his head down and blend into his new surroundings.

It won't be easy, not when he's being compared to $30-million-per year superstar Alex Rodriguez and already has made a sweet landing — at such a tender age — in the starting lineup of the Baltimore Orioles, which is why he wants you to believe that he's really not all that.

He certainly dresses up well, as you can see from the accompanying photo shoot, but if you send a search party to look for him in Miami next winter, don't bother with the nightclubs in South Beach or any of the other trendy spots in this pulsating city.

For one thing, he's not even old enough to drink there, and for another, he's going to be too tired from working out and trying to trying to be the next great Orioles Hall of Famer to dance those South Florida nights away.

"You know what? A lot of people that live in Miami, we really don't go to South Beach,'' Machado said. "We'll go to the beach, but really not South Beach. That's more for tourists who come in. People who live in Miami — I speak for myself and the people I hang out with — we're more just laid back. We work out from like 7 in the morning and we're not done until 2 or 3. At that point, I just want to go home and lie down and play some video games or something like that."

Machado is so not living La Vida Loca. He's two years out of high school and he's already engaged to his best friend's sister. Maybe someday he'll show up on "Dancing With The Stars," but right now he's taking his new stardom one step at a time.

He has dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player since he took his first steps. Family legend has it that when he was just a year old or so, he would watch baseball games on television and mimic the hitters using his baby bottle as a bat.

Now, he dresses in a section of the Orioles spring clubhouse that his older locker mates jokingly call "Mannywood" and tries to fend off the notion that he is anything more than a good young player just trying to make the team.

It doesn't work, of course, not when you wear the same number as ARod and come from the same baseball-rich area and play baseball well enough to jump into the starting lineup of a playoff team almost right out of high school.

"I try not to think about that,'' he said. "I try to be myself. It's good that you're getting compared to people like that — you soak it in — but at the same time, you let that out. I'm going to be me. I want to be the type of person that one day they are going to be comparing somebody else to me. I want to be that player. I want to be Manny Machado."

He has done a pretty good job of that so far. Just ask one of the other players who arrived here as the next can't-miss Orioles Hall of Famer.

"I think the big thing, and I think Manny's got it under control, is that you have to realize that your expectations and what you want to work on and develop is most important,'' said catcher Matt Wieters, who has met just about all the expectations that followed him to Baltimore after he was the Orioles' top draft choice in 2007. "Everyone can put expectations and lofty goals on you, but you've got to know that Manny wants to be as good as he can be, and if he keeps working like he is, he's going to get there."

The same thing is happening right now to pitcher Dylan Bundy, who has been celebrated far and wide and is supposed to be the Orioles' next next big thing.

"It's great to be in the spotlight like that,'' Bundy said, "but you just kind of not listen to it. You need to go out there and play your game, play how you know how to play and let the other stuff take care of itself."

This is where it's obvious that there has been a head-on collision between assumption and reality. Machado has been talked up since high school as the next ARod, who is one of the most talented players in the history of baseball, but there are all sorts of reasons why that's not a fair comparison.

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