SARASOTA, FLA. — The squirrel is wearing a cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette, holding a miniature replica gun and is mounted beside the nameplate on pitching prospect Hunter Harvey's locker in the Orioles clubhouse.
If the nickname it represents isn't the most flattering, the value of it is. Harvey sees it and every other bit of attention paid to him by new Orioles starter Andrew Cashner as vital to his growth as a major leaguer. And the taxidermy token above his locker looms over the whole pitchers’ side of the clubhouse as a symbol of the newest member's influence this spring.
A deliberate schedule prescribed that the 31-year-old Cashner wouldn't face a team wearing another club's colors until Sunday — two weeks after he arrived at camp. That means aside from getting his work in throwing simulated games and bullpens, he has used his time in Sarasota to ensure not only his own comfort in his new environs but that he's as much a part of the off-field fabric of the rotation as the stitching on a glove.
"If you invest in people, you become rich through people," Cashner said. "I don't know — I just enjoy competition, and I think that competition brings the best out of people. That's kind of what spring training is all about. It's having that edge, that competitive advantage, and also still being friends when you come back inside. I think we're all here for one goal, and that's to win."
Cashner has established all that in several ways this spring, and his teammates are taking notice. They know him, even without Cashner having been put in a true game setting, as the type of competitor who would just as soon breathe his last breath than lose. He's taken Harvey under his wing, served as a set of blinders to keep Dylan Bundy looking forward whenever he mentions 2017 and spent the spring’s sole day off fishing with reliever Richard Bleier on a mutual friend's boat.
"Most guys would just try and find their way, and he's branched out and not only acclimated to his surroundings but kind of blossomed and helped other people," Bleier said.
The Orioles clubhouse has always been known as a place for journeymen to find a home and flourish, and while Cashner might not qualify for that label, the veteran starter is doing more than going through the new-club motions.
He's not concerned that the well-worn spring training plan set out for him will leave him behind when the season starts, so he's sought to create a comfortable setting for those around him as well as himself.
His locker, beside Bundy's and near Chris Tillman's, is where the starters seem to convene every morning before they go about their daily routines. He sees the mornings, before pitchers leave for road games or head out to work behind Ed Smith Stadium, as just as important as the day's physical work.
"The more I've been here, I think the communication has been great from the start," Cashner said. "I think it couldn't have been a better fit for me as far as the guys on the team. I think this has been a great fit for me, just because I share a lot of the same interests with a lot of the players here."
Cashner’s interest in hunting and fishing isn't unique to him or the Orioles, but it's provided a common ground to begin to build the baseline for what he wants — to win. He's got his hobbies in common, but he wants to drag a rotation that's been mired in struggles out of that and he's unafraid to share his experiences with his new teammates to make that happen.
"He stays on you," said Harvey, the youngest of the bunch. "He's going to help push you. He wants to win. He talks about it all the time: 'I'm here to win. I don't care how we do it. I want to win.' Having him in the clubhouse is going to be big for this team."
Cashner's schedule, which has to this point occurred mostly outside the public view, has allowed for all of his personality to shine in the Orioles clubhouse. It's about creating comfort on both sides, something he's particularly invested in. That's why he requested and received ownership's assurance that his trademark beard can stay, provided it is trimmed, on a club where facial hair outside a well-manicured goatee is outlawed.
"I just think it's a part of who I am, and it's a part of my personality — it's just me," he said. "I think this length is kind of what it's supposed to be, I guess."
He's been on a team — the Miami Marlins — where he had to shave it, and said he'd not be with the Orioles if that was required again. But if that provision in his signing was made in the interest of creating comfort for the Orioles' only free-agent pitching addition from outside the club, he's repaid that over his first few weeks before debuting in a game by trying to create a comfort with everyone around him in short order.