Mike Elias sat comfortably in air-conditioned Minute Maid Park’s third base dugout, the visitor’s side. In perhaps that one way, he was in unfamiliar territory.
For the first time since Elias became Orioles executive vice president/general manager in November, his new team is in Houston this weekend for a three-game series against the Astros, the organization where Elias established himself as one of the game’s up-and-coming executives as its amateur scouting director and assistant GM.
He visited with his former boss, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow, and others. He noticed minor changes in signage and the like around the ballpark. He reflected on a team that two years ago won the World Series and entered play Friday with the most wins in the American League, only five summers ago made a third consecutive first overall pick in the MLB draft.
“I realized how much I took the air conditioning and the roof for granted,” Elias said with a wide smile. “This is a nice place. It’s really great to be back. I’m going to be here all weekend and see a lot of people that [I] did some really special things with, so that’s gonna be fun.
“Just seeing what a great team they have now, it’s a reminder that you do the work the right way, the players will show up and the team will grow. I think it’ll be a fun weekend. It’ll be a really good challenge for our team playing against a team like this.”
The Orioles are on the opposite end of the competitive spectrum. They began the series tied for baseball’s worst record, having taken Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the draft’s first pick Monday while potentially heading toward another top selection next June.
Much has been made of Houston providing a model for Baltimore, as well as other franchises amid a rebuild. Elias does not shy from the comparison.
“If you look back at when the Astros were kind of in a similar competitive cycle to what we are at right now, there were players on that team who ended up being there on the back end of it, when we had our first playoff team in 2015, and I know that’s gonna be the case here, too,” Elias said. “So I just want the guys who are on the team now to keep doing what they’re doing, grinding, playing hard.
“You see how hard these guys play. They’re literally running into walls and hurting themselves, and they’re doing everything they can to make the most of the opportunity, and I think that’s smart because they’ve got a real shot to establish themselves here and be here a while.”
Elias reiterated that his experience as an Astros executive will benefit him in his role overseeing the Orioles’ rebuild. After a 106-loss season in 2011 prompted change in the front office, Houston lost 107, 111 and 92 games in Elias’ first three years with the organization. They’ve won at least 84 every year since and have been one of baseball’s best teams each of the past three.
“I think it’ll be helpful,” Elias said. “I learned patience. We went through some really tough years, tough episodes here. This isn’t easy, and that stuff’s gonna happen.”
He was often the point man for Houston’s drafts, through which the Astros gathered much of the talent that led them to the 2017 World Series title. In Rutschman and the 40 other players collected by the Orioles in this week’s draft, Elias hopes to lay a similar foundation of talent to what the Astros have enjoyed.
Rutschman’s arrival might coincide with the next winning season in Baltimore, though it could also mark just another step toward competitiveness. Regardless, Elias is focused on the long-term goals of his new organization, the same approach he took with his old one.
“I think the thing that we did was just consistently made decisions that were good for the franchise,” Elias said. “Even if we knew we were gonna take some heat, even though we knew we were gonna take some lumps, even if we knew there was gonna be some short-term pain, we kinda kept our eye on the ball and made long-range decisions for the goal of the franchise. It takes some discipline, and it takes some thick skin, and hopefully I can capitalize on that in this experience.
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“When it happens, it’ll happen, and I’m confident that it will happen, and we will turn the corner at some point.”