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

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

Rodriguez lives his life in the tabloid press ... and on the edge of baseball propriety. He dates movie stars. He has admitted to steroid abuse. He publicly negotiated his last giant contract while the Yankees were in the midst of the 2007 playoffs. He was once America's baseball sweetheart but now is among the game's steroid-era pantheon of tarnished superstars.

Machado still counts him as a friend and mentor, an association that probably will give some people pause, but he seems to recognize that there are life lessons to be learned from both the good Arod and the one who can't stay off the back page of the New York Post.

"Life is always about making adjustments and learning the right things to do,'' Machado said. "You learn from your mistakes. You miss a ground ball, you learn from that. That even goes outside the game — who you hang out with…where you go. These are all things you look at with mature guys, like Alex, for instance. You see those things, you learn from them. You don't just pick one or the other. You learn from all the great things he's done and you learn from his mistakes. That goes for baseball-related things and things that aren't baseball-related."

Clearly, Machado isn't satisfied with just seeing whole field. He also wants to broaden his horizons and has spent the last couple of offseasons traveling to Europe.

He recently visited Italy with his fiancee, Yainee Alonso, and her brother, San Diego Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso, and marveled at the beauty and history of one of the cradles of Western civilization.

"There was so much to take in,'' Machado said. "We went to Venice, Florence and Rome. We saw the statue of David. We saw the Vatican. The Sistine Chapel. You walk into that room and it's unbelieveable how that guy (Michelangelo) did all that."

No one should be surprised that he was impressed with the statue of David, being such a well-chiseled guy himself. He's still feeling his way around the outside world after being immersed in baseball for much of his youth, but he seems pretty comfortable in his own skin.

Maybe that's why he is already engaged and admits to seeking "stability." He grew up in a single-parent home where his mother, Rosa Nunez, worked at a Miami export company six long days a week to give him the chance to go to Miami Brito and try to live his major league dream. When he got his big signing bonus from the Orioles, the first thing he did was buy her a house.

Yainee just graduated from the University of Miami and is preparing for a career as a physician's assistant. They met a couple years ago after Machado became friends with her brother, who is an emerging star with the San Diego Padres.

"Family is everything to me,'' Machado says. "I owe them everything and I'm going to do everything to pay them back for everything they've done for me."

The word that seems to follow Machado through a clubhouse full of older players is "aware." His teammates marvel at the maturity he displays while somehow showing the deference that is expected from someone so new to "The Show."

He arrived with the innate ability to see the big picture, both on the field and off. He knows he's good, but he also knows that he's lucky to be here so soon. He knows his way around third base, even though he had never spent any serious time there until he was called up to the big leagues unexpectedly last August.

"Yeah, from the first day he was called up last year, playing third base — a new position in the big leagues at 20 years old,'' said veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy. "People ask me what the most impressive thing about him is, and I always say his awareness, the way that he makes everything look like he's been there for 10 years versus him being 20 years old in the big leagues. It's pretty amazing."

Want proof? Just find a copy of the Orioles 2012 highlight DVD and skip forward to "The Play," which already has become Orioles legend. Most O's fans have already seen it, either live or on ESPN's Web Gems or on a scoreboard video at Camden Yards, but it's worth watching again … and again.

Machado, in just his 32nd major league game at third base, pulled a classic bait and switch on Tampa Bay Rays baserunner Rich Thompson. He charged a slow chopper that had infield hit written all over it, diagnosed the hopelessness of getting the routine out at first base, then faked a panic throw to first and spun around to catch Thompson rounding third for a huge out in one of the Orioles' 29 one-run wins.

"There are guys who have played this game 15 years who don't make that play,'' said Orioles vice president Brady Anderson.

The only question was which was more amazing, that Machado had the presence of mind to make the play or that Hardy somehow knew that he would and was on third waiting for the throw.

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