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Steve Clevenger: 'I loved Baltimore, cherished my time' as an Oriole

Steve Clevenger: 'I loved Baltimore, cherished my time' as an Oriole
Former Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger watches his grand slam during the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 11, 2015 in Baltimore. The Orioles acquired outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo and left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser from the Seattle Mariners for Clevenger, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Catcher Steve Clevenger's phone had been blowing for about 24 hours, from the moment news leaked Tuesday that he might be traded away from his hometown Orioles to the Seattle Mariners in a deal for slugger Mark Trumbo and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser.

"Everybody had been texting me, asking me what's going on. They knew more than me," Clevenger laughed. "I knew what I knew through the Internet, through my agent a little. But we really had no idea what was going on."

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He got official word Wednesday afternoon -- it was part relief, part excitement and part sadness for the Mount Saint Joseph graduate who spent some of his childhood living in the Pigtown neighborhood near Camden Yards.

"I've always said it was a dream come true to play for my hometown team and not too many people in the game get to do that, play for the team they grew up rooting for," Clevenger said. "But I'm also excited to start a new chapter of my baseball career in Seattle."

From a baseball standpoint, the trade made sense all around. The Orioles get Trumbo, a right-handed slugging first baseman/outfielder/designated hitter, to lengthen their lineup and possibly fill some of the power void if Chris Davis leaves. They also get an optionable left-handed arm in Riefenhauser, who can be shuttled up and down from Triple-A Norfolk next year if necessary.

The Mariners won't have to pay the roughly $9 million owed to Trumbo in his final year of arbitration and they fill a backup catcher opening with a cheap alternative who can also be a solid left-handed bench bat.

Trumbo, 29, gets to hit in Camden Yards in his free-agent walk year and Clevenger, 29, has a much better shot at big league playing time now that he's not behind Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph. Clevenger's fate in Baltimore was sealed when Wieters accepted the club's $15.8 million qualifying offer in November instead of electing free agency.

"I was kind of expecting [a trade] once Matt signed back. The Orioles aren't interested in three catchers; they've never really carried three catchers," Clevenger said. "So I figured they are trying to shop me around and get someone to help their team out. There are no hard feelings. I loved Baltimore, cherished my time here. But it's exciting for me. And hopefully I'll go to Seattle and establish a major league career."

Clevenger made the Orioles' Opening Day roster in 2014 and was Wieters' backup until the All-Star was injured. Joseph was called up from Triple-A and the Orioles acquired Nick Hundley. Ultimately, Clevenger was the odd man out.

He eventually got more playing time at the end of the 2015 season -- and hit .287 in 30 games.

"The Orioles, down the stretch in August and September, gave me a good look and some at-bats to prove that I can play in the big leagues. You get the opportunity, you have to run with it," he said. "That's what Caleb did [in 2014]. He did a good job last year and ran with it very well. He deserves to stay in Baltimore and I wish [Joseph and Wieters] the best of luck. It's a business sometimes. That's the way things go."

Clevenger certainly had his moments in an Orioles uniform. He had the opportunity to run down the Opening Day orange carpet at Camden Yards in 2014 and had a walk-off hit in May 2014 against the Houston Astros followed by a pie in the face from center fielder Adam Jones. In 2015, he hit a grand slam in September and a homer in August that marked the first time a native of the City of Baltimore had homered at Camden Yards for the Orioles.

"I'm gonna miss it. I'm gonna miss playing for my hometown team. Living five minutes down the road," he said. "But I'm really excited to go to a new team and I hope it will work out and I'll play a long time in the big leagues."

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