Orioles coming home to fun and games

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado reaches for a pass as he plays catch with a football during warmups against the San Diego Padres in San Diego Aug. 6.
Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado reaches for a pass as he plays catch with a football during warmups against the San Diego Padres in San Diego Aug. 6. (Lenny Ignelzi, Carroll County Times)

Coming home means returning to familiar surroundings, like a comfortable bed or the sight of family and friends.
To many of the Baltimore Orioles, coming home means chalking up cue sticks or running football routes in right field at Camden Yards.
The Orioles open a nine-game homestand tonight against Colorado, the first time they've been in Baltimore since Aug. 4. Their West Coast road trip ended with a three-game losing skid in Arizona, and all three losses came in walk-off fashion.
What better way to clear the mind and focus on a win than ... billiards, pingpong, cards, and football?
Sounds strange, but it's a pre-game tradition for several players soon after they arrive in the clubhouse.
"We've got like a first-class set-up ... it's pretty unbelievable," said catcher Taylor Teagarden,who stood near his locker and watched relief pitcher Troy Patton shoot pool against a clubhouse attendant. "It's a really fun set-up, middle of the clubhouse, keeps guys loose. It gets guys going a little bit in talking. It's a fun thing to do with some down time."
The team's pool table, donated by right fielder Nick Markakis, sits in the center of the room, complete with an Orioles light fixture above the felt that looks like something out of a saloon. Toward the back wall is the ping-pong table, where players square off in heated contests almost every day.
Corn hole boards are tucked underneath the billiards table just in case, but the popular outdoor game hasn't been used much since spring training.
Players make use of card tables near the back of the room. Some venture out to the field and toss a football around before fans are allowed inside the ballpark.
Sure, there are plush couches and flat-screen televisions at the ready inside the clubhouse, and almost every player has his mobile device within arm's reach.
But the leisure activities tend to lean toward competitive games.
"I'm a big tech geek," said relief pitcher Darren O'Day. "I love my phone and my iPad and everything, but these games kind of force us to put those things down and talk to each other, interact and create some camaraderie."
O'Day said it stems from manager Buck Showalter, who stays out of the way and lets the players do their own thing as much as possible.
"He wants guys to enjoy being in the clubhouse," O'Day said. "Everything he does, there's a reason for it."
Make no mistake, however - the Orioles enjoy the quest to reign supreme among their peers, whether it be pool or pingpong.
"It started in spring training and everyone got all these $300 paddles, world-class paddles," Teagarden said. "So naturally as professional baseball players, we're very competitive. Everyone's getting involved and wants a piece of the action. There's really good ping-pong players here."
The king, most players agree, is shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has been playing, and beating, his teammates for a few seasons. Hardy doesn't get to the table much these days, Teagarden said, but that doesn't stop Orioles such as Manny Machado, Steve Pearce, and a host of others from trying to snag the crown as top table tennis player.
"It's kind of like boxing," Teagarden said. "He doesn't want to have his title taken from him so he chooses to hold on to his title and not play anyone. I get it."
Teagarden said he likes ping-pong more than pool because it helps with his hand-eye coordination, perhaps another reason Showalter and his coaches don't mind a little game time now and then.
O'Day said it's good conditioning for the pitching staff and a chance to spend time with each other when the grind of the baseball season is in full swing.
Relief pitcher Tommy Hunter breaks it down in a simpler fashion.
"The thing is, we just hate losing," Hunter said. "It's creating an atmosphere of just winning. That's what Buck wants to do. Everybody plays and has fun doing it."
With nine home games upcoming, Hunter and his teammates have plenty of time to get reacquainted with their clubhouse amenities.
"It helps keep you relaxed," Hunter said. "Baseball's a pretty intense sport, so anything to take your mind off of it, it's a pretty good idea."