This weekend didn’t mark the first time Jonathan Schoop stopped in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park. He had used the locker room once previously, during an Orioles prospect game in 2010. Plus, he and Manny Machado used to wander around Camden Yards, especially if a rain delay afforded them extra time at their home ballpark.
“Me and Manny just walked everywhere,” Schoop recalled Saturday before he played at Camden Yards for the first time as a visiting player, playing second base and batting seventh for the Minnesota Twins in the first game of a doubleheader.
Friday’s rainout postponed that debut by a day, but it gave him time to explore the city he used to call home. He made sure to use the unexpected night off to visit his favorite restaurant, chain steakhouse Ruth’s Chris.
“In my first year, if you had a good game, they gave you a coupon,” Schoop said. “From there, I was going to Ruth's Chris every week. If you go on a road trip, the first day you came back, you go to Ruth's Chris and eat.”
After a minor league career that included three elbow surgeries and a move to the bullpen, Branden Kline, a Frederick native and the Orioles' second-round pick in the 2012 draft, got his first major league call-up Saturday as the 26th man for the Orioles' doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins.
Although Schoop’s favorite restaurant still stands, much else has changed when it comes to the Orioles. His July 31 trade to the Milwaukee Brewers last season was part of a bevy of dealings that saw the Orioles also send off Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach. He still has former teammates in his old clubhouse, plus Nelson Cruz in his current one, but it’s hard not to notice all the change.
"I miss it a little bit,” Schoop said. “That's why this is weird. Different dugout. Normally, I watch the game on the other side, so it's a different view. So I'm looking forward to seeing the game on the other side and see how it looks like.
"It's weird to come back. Yesterday, in the rainout, I went to eat, and I went back to the hotel, but normally, I went back to my house. So it was weird, but a good weird. Something new."
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Despite now playing in different leagues, Schoop said he keeps in contact with Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres, and Adam Jones, with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a one-year, $3 million deal. Schoop called Jones “my big brother” and gets regular advice from the former Orioles outfielder, while he and Machado talk “almost every day.”
Manager Brandon Hyde and coaches Doug Brocail and Tim Cossins all got thrown out of games during the recent road trip, which probably has Earl Weaver smiling somewhere, but it's never a good idea to get a bad reputation with the umpires.
“I didn't have a homer, and he said, 'Hey, you not gonna hit one?' ” Schoop said. “So that day, I hit two. So me and him have fun. We call each other and give each other hard times. I think I'm better than him, so I tell him all the time."
Between the first and second innings of Saturday’s opening game, the Orioles played a video tribute to Schoop with highlights of a career that began in Baltimore in 2013 and included an All-Star honor in 2017, when he hit 32 home runs and had 105 RBIs. The video ended with “Thank You Jonathan.”
Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Blake Snell won the American League Cy Young Award in 2018, posting a 1.06 ERA in his 10 starts with Jesús Sucre behind the plate. Now, Sucre is the Orioles' starting catcher and trying to have the same impact on Baltimore's young staff that he did on Snell.
When Schoop came to bat as an Oriole Park visitor for the first time in the second inning, he received an ovation from fans and promptly removed his helmet to recognize them. He nearly homered down the left-field line, with the ball sneaking foul, before dropping a double just inside the right-field line.
The connections made with fans during his time in Baltimore stick with Schoop seemingly as much as those he made with teammates. It’s part of the reason this early-season series stuck out when he saw the Twins’ schedule.
“I was looking forward to coming to play against my old teammates and come to Baltimore and see my old friends and the fans that I got to know through my career that helped me not only on the field, outside the field, too, looking out for me,” he said. “You get to know fans and you get to know people that helped your career."