HOUSTON — Heston Kjerstad realizes he got lucky.
As his teammates dumped seemingly the entire contents of the clubhouse kitchen on his head Sunday as he sat awkwardly in a laundry cart, he closed his mouth in time to avoid most of the disgusting concoction — including Chick-fil-A sauce, smoothies, beer and salad dressing.
“All I tasted was balsamic vinaigrette,” Kjerstad said with a laugh. “It could’ve been worse.”
In any other setting, what happened at the end of the Orioles’ playoff clinch party Sunday would be downright bizarre. But not in an MLB clubhouse, where career firsts and milestones are often met with similar celebrations.
It’s a rite of passage for ballplayers — a shared experience to commemorate their first home runs, wins, saves and other accomplishments. Kjerstad’s celebration capped off what was a wild atmosphere inside the Orioles’ clubhouse after the club clinched its first playoff berth since 2016 and beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-4, in perhaps the best win of the season.
“It’s one of those things you’ve got to do it once,” the 24-year-old said. “I got to earn my stripes. It’s all part of it. It’s all fun and games, for sure. It’s all part of the process, all part of the journey.”
The list of what was dumped on Kjerstad seemed endless, from mango salsa to ice cream to olive oil. He took it all in stride as he sat in the laundry bin on wheels with his arms and legs dangling out the sides.
Kjerstad, who was called up and made his MLB debut Thursday, actually hit his first big league homer Friday, but the solo shot came in a 7-1 loss — the club’s fourth straight at the time. Normally, the team would celebrate the feat that night, but the veterans in the clubhouse decided that wasn’t the right time in the middle of a pivotal series that was heading in the wrong direction.
“After the loss, I went up to [Kjerstad], congratulated him not only on his debut but hitting his first career home run,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said. “I said, ‘We’ll celebrate you properly after we secure a win.’”
The Orioles won, 8-0, the following night, but the elation of that win — the biggest of the season before Sunday’s eclipsed it — caused the celebration to “fall through the cracks.”
Mullins then went up to starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, the 35-year-old leader of the pitching staff, to ensure they didn’t forget another day.
“I said, ‘Hey, we need to make sure we get this done,’” Mullins recalled telling Gibson. “He said, ‘We get the win tomorrow, for sure, we’ll knock it out.’ And then everything falling in line with clinching the playoffs, it was a perfect opportunity.”
Mullins and Gibson didn’t forget Sunday. During the raucous celebration, amid the blaring music, dancing and champagne spraying, Kjerstad just remembers being put into a laundry bin and the rest was a blur.
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“As soon as it was done, I hopped in the shower,” Kjerstad said.
The point of such silliness, Gibson said, is to recognize how difficult baseball is and the journey players take to achieve their dreams. While young players more often are on the receiving end, veterans can also get doused for career milestones. Veteran left-hander Danny Coulombe recorded the first save of his big league career in July and was celebrated. Gibson, a father of four, had his teammates, most of whom are about a decade his junior, douse him with liquids after his 100th win last month.
“Nobody is immune to the cart,” Gibson said. “You do something special that’s worthy of it, you’re getting in the cart.”
Baltimore is Gibson’s fourth MLB team, and he said the Orioles go a little crazier than other teams. Rather than the typical beer shower, the right-hander said it’s unusual — and extra fun — to have chia bowls, fruit cups, soy sauce and “any other liquid or solid we can find” thrown in. But what Kjerstad received Sunday was on another level.
“He definitely got it worse than anybody I have ever seen,” Gibson said. “I feel for the guy, because that was really something.”
Kjerstad might not want to hop into a laundry cart every time the Orioles pop champagne, but he’s grateful for the timing of his big league call-up last week.
“Hopefully I’ll get to be a part of a lot more of these moving forward,” he said.