Joey Rickard didn't expect to hit his first major league home run this early into his big league career, but what really surprised the Orioles rookie Rule 5 pick was the Camden Yards crowd's reaction to his first homer.
Rickard didn’t take time to savor his first major league home run on Thursday night. Off the bat, he didn’t know whether he got enough of Trevor May’s 1-0 delivery in the eighth inning of the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, so he was running full speed out of the batter’s box.
So after Rickard saw the ball disappear over the left-center field fence and into the Orioles dugout, he was able to slow his pace and enjoy the moment.
“I was pretty much in a full sprint, and I was just trying to slow down to get home and shake some hands,” Rickard said.
Rickard didn't expect what happened next, either. Shortly after returning to the Orioles dugout, what remained of the scattered crowd of 11,142 at Camden Yards erupted into a “Jo-ey, Jo-ey” chant, which has become a familiar sound during the Orioles’ season-opening series as Rickard played a part in each of the team’s three wins.
The chant grew louder. The rookie with all of three major league games under his belt didn’t know what to do.
“That’s not me,” Rickard said. “I was just going to hang back in the dugout, but they kept chanting.”
Rickard looked to his veteran teammates for a cue. Mark Trumbo gave him a nudging nod. J.J. Hardy pointed up, motioning him to the top step.
“I kind of kept looking around at teammates to get the OK, and what should I do and I finally look at J.J. and he just pointed up and he was like I’ve got to do it,” Rickard said. “I listen to him, he’s been around, he knows what to do, so as soon as he did that I knew I had to go up there.”
So the 24-year-old who opened last year playing in front of about 1,500 fans a night in the Florida State League, quickly stepped up the dugout steps into the crowd’s view and acknowledged them with a wave of his left hand and stepped back down.
“There was a couple a guys, especially right down home plate who weren’t going to let up,” Trumbo said. “It seemed like they were determined to get him to at least give a tip of the cap or something. I think in that situation, you just appease them and obviously they’re really excited for you, so it’s the right thing to do.”
Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter of Rickard: “He's so respectful of trying to do the right thing. He did the right thing.”
Through three major league games, Rickard is 5-for-11. With starting center fielder Adam Jones out of the starting lineup Thursday with soreness in his rib area, Rickard received his first start in center field. He also received his first opportunity to bat leadoff after hitting in the No. 9 spot for his first two games.
It is only three games, but Rickard has been the best story of this young season. Now this weekend, Rickard will face the Tampa Bay Rays organization that left him unprotected to be taken by the Orioles in December’s Rule 5 draft.
“I think I feel happiest for him because he’s had to earn every bit of this,” Trumbo said. “He had to go to spring training and fight his way onto a ball club and that’s exactly what he did. He earned a spot and he’s showing exactly what he can do. And sometimes you’ve got to kind of pave your own way and that’s what he’s doing.”
Rickard is not known for his power. He hit just 13 homers in his four seasons in the minor leagues, but this offseason he showed some pop by hitting six homers in 217 plate appearances playing winter ball for Escogido in the Dominican Republic. His home run total was one shy of the league lead.
“If you look at the kind of progression of him -- at 23, 24 -- he's starting to figure out who he is,” Showalter said. “I've got a pretty good idea of how they're going to try to pitch him, but he can make some adjustments. I don't think anybody pigeon-holed him into what he can do and not do. … I'm happy for him. I'm really impressed with how he's handled the good things that have come his way these last couple months.”
Playing in the Dominican, Rickard found himself primarily hitting second or third in the Escogido batting order, his was in more of a run-producing role. He knows his main goal with the Orioles is working counts and getting on base, but hitting his first homer came as a little bit of a surprise.
“I think down there, I was just more aggressive with me being in a different part of the order down there,” Rickard said. “And just playing my role a little more up here, it’s kind of let me focus on getting on base a little bit more but tonight it surprised me a little bit that it went out. But I’m happy it did.”