Schmuck: For Orioles facing contract uncertainty, Opening Day is no time to think about next year

Manny Machado didn’t dodge the line of questioning, even though he probably heard it in some form 50 times over the course of spring training.

When he jogs down the orange carpet during Opening Day introductions Thursday afternoon — perhaps for the last time — what will be going through his mind? Will there be an extra emotional tug knowing this very likely could be his last rodeo with these fans and these teammates?

“Yeah, obviously, there are always emotions running through you,’’ Machado said Wednesday. “It’s a matter of you have to separate it a little bit. You try to control it. Definitely, I have a lot of memories in this clubhouse, a lot of memories in this park. Those will always be with me and those moments will never be forgotten.”

If that sounds like he’s already out the door, don’t jump to conclusions. Machado has some unfinished business here, and so do the other players who might or might not be in the club’s long-term plans.

The 2018 season is going to be a major challenge right from the get-go. The Orioles face a parade of the best teams in the American League over the first four weeks of the season. They will have played a series against each of last year’s five AL playoff teams by April 23, and none of those teams have taken a big step backward.

So, Machado said he’s not looking ahead to next winter. He’s not looking ahead to whoever his next team might be. He’s not even looking ahead to the rest of this weekend.

“I live in the moment,’’ he said before Wednesday’s rain-shortened final preseason workout. “I don’t look ahead. The only moment I’m looking forward to is tomorrow, walking down that orange carpet and playing again at Oriole Park. This is where I’ve come up and this is one of the best moments always, looking forward to Opening Day, being part of a team, being part of a great organization. After that, we can’t control anything that happens in the future, only what we can control now.”

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who is one of Machado’s best friends and is possibly a year away from hearing all of the same questions, almost winced when presented with the possibility of the Orioles’ new double-play combination being a one-season wonder.

“I won’t even think about that right now,’’ he said. “I don’t want to think about it. I wish we can stay together for a long time, but there’s one thing we can do and control. We can go out and play. The business side we can’t control it. I wish we could stay together forever, but we cannot control that.”

Schoop said he’s only sure of one thing.

“I know [Manny] is going to have a big year,’’ Schoop said. “He’s going to help the team. That’s what we are all here for to help the team win and try to go to the playoffs.”

It will be the 11th orange carpet for Adam Jones, who faces the same uncertainty at a later stage in his career. He doesn’t know if the club will make a serious attempt to keep him beyond this year, but can see the situation through a lens that takes in both his playing career and the relationship that he has built with the local community.

Jones pondered a question about all those years in an Orioles uniform and how that might affect his emotions as he runs down the carpet to a huge ovation from the sellout crowd.

“I didn’t think I’d have this many,’’ he said. “The main thought is, ‘Don’t trip … that thing is pretty thick,’ but it’s special. Everyone has been special, not to say that 11 is more special than the first one. I’m just going to take it all in stride and enjoy it like the previous ones.”

The strong bond that he has built with the people of Baltimore — particularly the young people — is a separate issue because he will always have roots here regardless of where he plays next year.

“It’s like planting a seed,’’ he said. “You plant a seed and you have to watch it grow. I’ve done that in the city and I have to watch the flowers that I’ve planted grow. That’s beyond baseball. That doesn’t have anything to do with the on-field stuff.”

Not surprisingly, Jones was hesitant to make anything about himself, again referring questions about his contract situation to the front office. He said recently that he wouldn’t make it an issue during the regular season out of respect for his teammates and their shared goal.

He said he’s looking forward to seeing how the excitement of Opening Day affects the guys who have not experienced it before.

“Everybody is going to have butterflies or whatever,’’ Jones said. “I’m excited for a lot of these guys’ first Opening Day — Nestor [Cortes Jr.], Pedro [Araujo], Chance Sisco making his first Opening Day roster — and the guys who are new to our ovations are going to be excited to see that. It’s a lot of excitement for a lot of the young guys, too. … Everybody has a lot of different cool things going on for this Opening Day.”

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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