Sunday marked not only the end of the worst season in Orioles history, but potentially the end of an era. Still, in the final day of a lost season, the atmosphere at Camden Yards was one of mixed sorrow and celebration, a final opportunity to embrace a pair of key figures who helped bring winning baseball back to Baltimore in brighter days.
Few cities embrace their sports heroes the way this one does, and saying goodbye to them is difficult, but the largest non-doubleheader crowd at Camden Yards in more than a month gathered to send the team’s longest-tenured player and face-of-the-franchise Adam Jones and manager Buck Showalter out in style in the team’s 4-0 Game 162 win over the Houston Astros.
There will be more difficult moments ahead — the official parting of ways is yet to come as the Orioles take the next step in their rebuild, but given the direction the franchise has taken in recent months, Jones and Showalter likely won’t be a part of it.
Still, no single day this season could compare to the emotional slices of Sunday afternoon.
“There's a lot of [emotion],” Showalter said of the day. “I've had enough of it for a year. Not just today but ... that was ... you know, a lot of people talk about putting on a moment. Some of them are put together by good music and things that create some environment. Here in Baltimore, it's put on by people, by the emotion and the deep love they have for Adam.
“Guys like Adam are very special to people here in our city,” he said. “You've got to really make sure that you take that responsibility very seriously, whether you're a coach or a player or a manager. I'm not saying somebody else doesn't. I love getting things that other people don't get. If you don't get Baltimore ... it's just people that are very passionate about the Orioles doing well. There's always a payback for it.”
Jones took his spot in right field in the top of the ninth inning and was replaced by Joey Rickard, trotting off the field in an Orioles uniform for maybe the final time. His teammates on the field clapped into their gloves, Jones gave first baseman Trey Mancini a hug, then Astros first base coach Alex Cintrón before going into a welcome line of teammates and coaches waiting outside the dugout.
Before the game, Jones walked along the outfield and handed out balls and bats to fans. Fans gathered along the front row, cheering for Jones as he made his way around the field. Before the game, he was awarded the annual Most Valuable Orioles award for the third time in his career.
“I got too much stuff in [my locker], didn’t want to take it with me,” Jones shrugged and explained after the game. “Might as well give some people some balls.”
Showalter placed Jones back in center field — he shifted to right in August to make room for rookie Cedric Mullins — to start Sunday’s game. Three minutes before the national anthem, the other starters were told to hold back on taking the field and let Jones go on his own.
When Jones did, he looked back to see him alone on the field, his teammates and coaches joining the crowd in a standing ovation from the dugout to give Jones the spotlight to himself.
“Weird, because I’m never out on the field by myself, but I’m very appreciative of my friends and my teammates for acknowledging my hard work and dedication to the game.”
Jones received standing ovations before each of his four plate appearances, and Astros pitchers walked off the mound to allow him to be celebrated, Jones nodded to the pitcher to get back onto the mound.
But after he was removed before the stop of the ninth inning, Jones couldn’t hold off his final standing ovation without giving in to the moment, tipping his cap to the crowd and before shaking hands with his teammates and disappearing into the dugout.
“[It was] cool,” Jones said. “I tipped my hat and showed my appreciation to the crowd. I saw [the New York Mets’] David Wright do it last night, seen a lot of players do it throughout their career, and I just did what came to my mind.”
“Lot of years here, lot of games, lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Jones said. “I greatly appreciate it from the fans standpoint, my teammates for sending me out there on the island all by myself. Buck for letting me get an inning in CF where I started at. It's been a cool weekend. Very appreciative and humbled that people care.”
Orioles fans have forged a deep connection with Jones throughout his 11 years with the club. They’ve embraced his hustle and dedication to playing every day, his consistency on the field and his impact in the community. He might be the player who fans see as most epitomizing “The Oriole Way” since Cal Ripken Jr.
Setting up moments for the crowd to recognize Jones wasn’t easy, Showalter said, but it was worthwhile.
“It's about doing what's right for Adam. OK, and really for Baltimore,” Showalter said. “So it was pretty easy.”
There was the lasting image of Showalter hugging his players before disappearing into the dugout. He stood on the warning track, as he did after every win, but the hugs were different.
There weren’t as many opportunities to hail Showalter, but the fans did so when he came out of the dugout in the third inning to talk to plate umpire Chad Whitson. Asked whether Showalter heard the fans cheering, he said, “What do you think?”
“We won the game. They were happy we won,” he added, his eyes getting watery. “I'm not going to go there. Thanks. You know how much it means to me.”
For a fan base that’s become frustrated by a season that ended with 115 losses, tied for fourth most in the modern era, a crowd of 24,916 could celebrate an era of winning instead of being consumed by a future full of questions.
“It was one of the coolest things I was ever a part of and just for three hours there it made you forget about everything this year,” Mancini said. “And obviously, it didn’t go nearly how we wanted it to, but today was definitely a good day out here and it was an honor to be a part of that.”
And inside the Orioles clubhouse after the game, lockers were cleared out and players went their separate ways for the offseason. For an already overhauled roster, it was the end of a season. For Baltimore, this was the end of a memorable chapter in Orioles history.
“It just goes to show how much these fans love their teams through thick and thin,” Mancini said. “It says a lot about them, the attendance today, and especially the love they showed for Adam.”