"He was so excited driving here," Dennis Markakis said after the news conference during which Nick Markakis' long-term extension with the Orioles was announced. "He usually doesn't show much emotion. He was smiling a lot more, his mind was wandering more. I was talking to him, and he wasn't listening. You knew he was thinking about it."
Whether Nick Markakis realizes it or not, and he certainly appears to, the 25-year-old outfielder became the face of the Orioles' franchise the second the ink dried on the six-year, $66.1 million contract he signed with the club. The contract, which includes a $17.5 million mutual option for the 2015 season, a limited no-trade clause and a slew of incentives, is the second-richest contract the Orioles have given out, behind only the six-year, $72 million deal for shortstop Miguel Tejada in December 2003.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," said Markakis, perhaps the organization's best homegrown player since Cal Ripken Jr. "Once you get into that type of money, you can't describe it. It's a good feeling, but it's also part of my job where I have to perform."
In three seasons with the Orioles, Markakis has a .299 batting average, 59 home runs and 261 RBIs, and he has become one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Orioles president Andy MacPhail said signing Markakis to an extension was the team's No. 1 priority this offseason.
"I think it sends an important signal up and down your organization," MacPhail said. "Clearly, from the time we threw our last pitch last year, in talking to [owner Peter Angelos], this was our first priority. It was that important for the franchise. It's pretty simple. He's young, already a premier talent ... and he's only going to get better."
Markakis called it a "fairly easy decision" and praised MacPhail's various moves and the direction of the club. He also said he fully understands the responsibility that comes with being the team's top-paid player and one of the city's highest-profile athletes.
Markakis and his wife, Christina, who were married this offseason and are awaiting the birth of their first child, are planning to live year-round in Monkton, where Markakis purchased a home last season. They are starting a foundation, and Markakis has already committed money to Orioles charities that was "even in excess of what the club was thinking was a good idea," MacPhail said.
Said Jamie Murphy, Markakis' agent: "It was less the money and more the commitment. He really wanted the commitment from the Orioles, and he wants to make the commitment back. Away from baseball, he has big plans to be a role model and help the community."
On the field and in the clubhouse, Markakis has always kept to himself, content to fit in rather than stand out, while quietly observing how higher-profile teammates, such as Tejada, Kevin Millar and Brian Roberts, dealt with the media and the attention. Earlier in his career, Markakis, who acknowledged that he was nervous yesterday speaking in front of a large group of media and team employees, barely looked up to make eye contact with reporters.
But his Orioles teammates have long admired the way he goes about his business and the hard work he puts in to prepare himself each day.
"Everything he does is so simple," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "He goes about his business, works hard. He's so quiet, you don't know what he's doing, but he's always doing something to better himself."
Markakis maintained that he is prepared to become more vocal if need be, although he said he sees himself more as a leader by example.
"I don't think I have anything that is going to change except working harder and getting better at things," Markakis said. "I'm just going to continue the way I've been playing. I've learned a lot since I've been up here. I will build on that and try to take roles on the team to help the younger guys so we can get better, just like the older guys did for me."
As for his lifestyle, Markakis said that won't change either, even with his sudden multimillionaire status. He still is far more comfortable in jeans, a T-shirt and baseball cap than in the light blazer and suit pants he wore yesterday.
Although he has bought a new truck since breaking into the majors, he still enjoys driving a 1994 Ford Ranger that has nearly 200,000 miles on it and a busted air conditioner.
"The lifestyle that I'm living right now is pretty comfortable," said Markakis, his normally shaved head covered with curly, dark hair. "I just want to keep things simple, keep being the way you are. There's absolutely no reason to change."
Notes: : The Orioles officially announced the signing yesterday of catcher Gregg Zaun to a one-year, $1.5 million deal that includes a team option for 2010. To make room for Zaun on the roster, they designated infielder Oscar Salazar for assignment. ... Markakis and MacPhail expressed hope that Roberts is the next to agree on a long-term deal with the club. "We've made no secret of the fact that we'd love to have Brian come back," MacPhail said. "We're still working on it. Hopefully we can get something done."