WASHINGTON — On the occasion of his first baseball visit to the Baltimore-Washington area since the Orioles traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July, new San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado wanted to clear something up.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated in February, he appeared to take a big parting shot at Baltimore, comparing the Orioles unfavorably to the Dodgers and claiming the team didn’t show him even “a little bit of love” after all he did for the organization and the community.
He didn’t back away from that comment Friday as the Padres prepared to open a three-game series at the Washington Nationals, but he did want to make sure there was no collateral damage.
“That wasn’t about the fans,’’ Machado said. “The fans were always there. The fans always supported us no matter what … when we sucked and when we played well. That had nothing to do with the fans. That was toward the organization and ownership — how they did things. Obviously, you see how it is, how they did it.”
Machado obviously felt that the Orioles never made a legitimate attempt to sign him to a long-term deal, but he said all the right things about the team and the city on his last night as an Oriole — the night he represented them at the All-Star Game at Nationals Park.
After the negative reaction to the Sports Illustrated interview, he said many fans reached out to him on social media and he let them know that he meant them no disrespect.
“They supported me, and even when I went to L.A. they were still there,’’ he said. “They will always support me, because we gave it our all. I gave my all. And they did as well. There’s always the business side of it that the fans don’t see and that’s what it was a reference to.”
Machado will be back in Baltimore for a two-game interleague series June 25-26 at Camden Yards and said he’s very much looking forward to playing in front of his old fan base for the first time in a Padres uniform. So, what kind of reception is he expecting?
“I’m not expecting anything,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and play, and I know what Baltimore has meant to me in my heart and meant to my family as well. … There are going to be a lot of memories walking through that tunnel, stepping on the field. That’s the only expectation I have on my end. I know [the Orioles] will probably do something nice and the fans will be there to support as well.”
If that sounds a bit wistful, don’t get the wrong idea. Machado isn’t pining for his old team — probably because it doesn’t really exist in a recognizable form anymore. The Orioles also traded most of his veteran teammates away and did not make any attempt to re-sign de facto team captain Adam Jones.
Machado got to go to the World Series with the Dodgers and signed a record 10-year, $300 million contract with a Padres team that has turned a competitive corner the Orioles probably won’t see for several years.
The Padres lost 96 games last year and finished last in the National League West. They arrived in Washington on Friday with a 14-11 record, just one game behind the first-place Dodgers, in no small part because of the addition of Machado and the impressive debut of top shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr.
“It’s been exciting,’’ Machado said. “The organization, the team, the place I’m at couldn’t be any better. Excited with the choice I made. It’s a little far from home, but they’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
While Machado was talking to reporters, the MLB Network was on in the background reporting on the hours-away major league debut of another potential superstar — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — and top Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom was over in the home clubhouse getting ready to play his first big league game.
That made Machado a bit nostalgic.
“I’ve been in that same situation,’’ he said. “I was finally fulfilling my dreams. You see him. You see that smile. That’s the most beautiful thing you can see. Those are expressions you can never teach. You can never really express how you’re feeling. It’s just something that’s in you. It’s special to see, because you know how hard it is to get there and you know that feeling deep down inside.”
If that seems like only yesterday, Machado finds himself as one of the veterans on a developing team with a ton of emerging talent and said he’s enjoying the chance to help mentor Tatis as well as some of the other young players.
“These guys, they want to learn,’’ he said. "They want to get better. That’s the only way you can really teach them, just by going out there and playing the game. Lead by example. That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve got a great group of leaders here that lead in different ways. It’s pretty awesome to be a part of.”
The Padres appear to be at the other end of the process the Orioles have just begun. When their young talent started to bloom, they began adding key veterans — most notably premier first baseman Eric Hosmer last year and Machado in February.
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“It just shows what direction they’re trying to go in … what they’re trying to do with the organization,’’ Machado said. “It just means a lot. It means a lot that they’re trying to move forward. They’re trying to put this organization on the map.”