In his seven years in an Orioles uniform, right fielder Nick Markakis couldn't talk about the upcoming season as optimistically as he did on Tuesday.
Surely, every offseason comes with its share of hopefulness. But this one, coming off the Orioles first winning season and postseason berth in 15 years, bears actual fruit.
"You can definitely tell from the fans' standpoint," Markakis said. "It's good to see. This will by my eighth season coming up, and the six years prior to this past season, it's been tough. We've had our ups and downs but we just couldn't pull things together. This past season, when things go right and everybody's on the same page, good things happen. It's just good to bring it back to the city. It's good to see it in the fans.
"And not only the fans, but the whole country knows what the Baltimore Orioles are about now. And we just got to continue with that mindset that attitude and play hard and we'll see at the end of the year where we are."
Markakis, along with teammates J.J. Hardy, L.J. Hoes and Steve Johnson participated in the club's annual OriolesREACH holiday party on Tuesday at Dave and Busters at Arundel Mills Mall. Orioles manager Buck Showalter, as well as former Orioles Al Bumbry, Chris Hoiles, Dave Johnson and Scott McGregor also attended.
Eighty students from Morrell Park Elementary-Middle attended the event, selected to attend based on a combination of perfect attendance, citizenship awards and making the honor roll. The Orioles held the party, which is aimed at rewarding children from disadvantaged areas of Baltimore, for the 34th year.
In between signing autographs and playing arcade games with the children, the Orioles served lunch as wide-eyed kids looked on in awe as they were handed out chicken fingers, french fries and mini pizzas. The Right Side Foundation — a charity formed by Markakis and his wife, Christina — also donated Under Armour bags, baseballs and gloves to each student in attendance.
Even though it's the offseason, Steve Johnson — a St. Paul's alum who made his major league debut this season — said the excitement of the season has carried over.
"Going to the Ravens games, I get recognized here and there, and they're just excited for next year," Steve Johnson said. "That's what everyone says. And being from here and knowing what the last 14 years have been like, to have the fans kind of have our backs and be excited for next season, that's going to make for a fun start to next year, and hopefully the whole year."
Hoes, another local who was the Orioles minor league player of the year this season, also senses a different sense of optimism in the air.
"Sometimes when I go out to eat now I just overhear people talking about the Orioles and how much they can't wait for next season," said Hoes, a Mitchellville native. "Or some people might see me and be like, 'Oh you played for the Orioles...we are so proud of you guys, we are so glad for you guys we can't wait for next year to support the team.' Stuff like that. It's definitely been a great thing for the area- us winning and also the Nationals winning. Baseball is coming back around here."
As for Markakis, he said his surgically repaired left thumb is doing well. He's resumed his normal offseason workout activities and said he's a little antsy to get back to spring training. Markakis missed the final month of the season and the entire postseason after taking a CC Sabathia fastball to the thumb on Sept. 8.
"As good as I'm going to get right now." Markakis said. "I've already started all my stuff and I'm ready to roll. And actually, [I'm] anxious to get down there. I don't have any setbacks. I'm enjoying my offseason right now. [Spring training] will be here before we know it."
Markakis and Hardy, two of the franchise cornerstones, said they've been following the team's offseason moves. On the re-signing of Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth, who stepped into the leadoff spot in Markakis' absence, Markakis said, "I think he deserves it [for] what he did for us in the second half ever since he got here."
Hardy was disappointed that the team didn't re-sign first baseman Mark Reynolds, who signed a one-year, $6-million deal with the Indians. Reynolds and Hardy are good friends and their lockers were located next to each other.
"A little bit," Hardy said when asked if he was disappointed. "He wanted to come back. The thing is I think he would have signed for less money to come back here. It will be interesting to see what happens. I think we'll all miss him for sure."
The Orioles still bring back most of their 2012 roster, sans Reynolds and Robert Andino, so the expectations coming off a 93-win season will be lofty. That's something for which Markakis is excited.
"That's what comes with success," Markakis said. "With what we did last year, people are going to be looking for us to be in the same position we were in last year and go further. And that's our expectation. That's our goal. We want to get there. The guys have been there. Hopefully I'll be able to get there with them and you know, have fun doing it."