Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta always has maintained that he harbors no grudge against the Orioles for trading him back in 2013, and he didn't change his tune when he arrived at Camden Yards on Thursday for the first time since.
Arrieta had nothing but good things to say about the Orioles organization and his former teammates, some of whom will get to face him in the second game of their interleague series Saturday night.
"It's a great place to play baseball," he said. "I really enjoyed my time here. A lot of great people. The fans here are tremendous. It's going to be a fun series. I'm looking forward to it. I get to pitch tomorrow, so it's going to be a neat experience."
Arrieta, of course, was dealt to the Cubs in 2013 along with reliever Pedro Strop for veteran pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger (Mount Saint Joseph). Both he and Strop quickly turned a corner in Chicago and have thrived with the Cubs.
Still, Arrieta acknowledges that he does occasionally wonder what might have been had he stayed in Baltimore, even though he has won a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring with the Cubs.
"I think about what could have been," he said, "but there's no perfect formula or equation for success at this level. It just took me quite a while to figure some things out. It would have been nice to have a better landing here and gain some traction and be here for a long time and never play for another team, but it didn't work out that way.
"Things didn't go so well, and I had the opportunity to be traded and come to this organization and do some really special things. While it would be really cool to stay with one team your whole career, you guys know how things worked out. I underperformed. They had an opportunity to make a trade for a starting pitcher to try and help them out in the playoffs, and the rest is history."
Arrieta (8-7, 4.35 ERA) has said he's confident that he would have developed into the pitcher who won 40 games the previous two years. Orioles manager Buck Showalter agrees.
"I try to think about it the other way," Showalter said. "It worked out great for Jake in his career. It was perfect timing for him to reach some levels that he was capable of reaching, and I'm happy for him.
"Whether or not it could have happened here, some people might debate it. I think sooner or later, Jake would have reached his level wherever he would have been. I pull for Jake every time he pitches, except against us."
So how exactly did it feel for Arrieta to walk into his first major league ballpark again?
"It felt like it did several years ago," he said. "It's cool to be here, driving by and seeing the Warehouse and just kind of remembering the area. I look forward to going to a couple of places we used to frequent quite a bit, and it's going to be cool to be back out on the field."
The trade was also a turning point in Strop's career. He was struggling at midseason in the Orioles bullpen when the deal was made, and he remembers that Showalter told him at the time that the deal would reignite his career.
"When I got traded, I knew that the team was under construction and I knew it was the right place for me to get back on track," said Strop, who has a 2.73 ERA in 271 games with the Cubs. "Because I was struggling at the time, and I knew I was going to get an opportunity to pitch.