Five spring trainings ago, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop's time in big league camp was limited to cameo appearances. They were occasionally shuttled in from minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park for the purpose of playing in mop-up innings of Grapefruit League games.
At the time, they were far from the cornerstone players they would become. The duo dressed in the auxiliary clubhouse at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. The young players wore No. 85 and No. 86 on jerseys that bore no names on the back because they were recycled daily for different players coming in from Twin Lakes.
Those kind of things indicate that players don't completely belong in big league camp. Orioles manager Buck Showalter refers to them as "JICs," minor league camp players who will play in games "just in case."
Machado and Schoop acknowledged they felt out of place initially, but they found a friendly face in infielder Robert Andino, who took it upon himself to show the duo the ins and outs of a big league camp.
"When you first walk in, you're a little scared," Schoop said. "Not scared, but I remember walking [through the hallways] here, and I didn't even want to pass by [the main clubhouse entrance]. I didn't want people to see me.
"It's tough, but he made you feel welcome. He'd tell you, 'You belong here. You've got good talent. Just work hard and you'll be good.' That makes you relax a little bit. And then we go outside [on the field], he'd tell you things to get better, some little stuff, but it helped you a lot."
Fast forward to this year's spring training, where Andino, who will turn 33 in April, has been reunited with Machado and Schoop in Orioles big league camp. Their careers are in an interesting juxtaposition.
Machado and Schoop are now the club's top two young players, and perhaps the biggest reason to believe in the franchise's future. Andino, who signed a minor league deal after playing last season with the Miami Marlins' Triple-A team, is trying to extend his career with the team for which he experienced his most success. He will likely start the season as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Norfolk.
Andino, whose return comes after stops with three major league organizations and a stint in the independent Atlantic League, smiles about how Machado and Schoop credit him for helping them get their footing. He said he received the same treatment when he was a young player coming up.
"I think everybody needs that," Andino said. "I know when I was coming up with the Marlins, I had [infielders] Alex Gonzalez and Luis Castillo. My first couple years here [in Baltimore] I had [Cesar] Izturis. These guys, they know what to do. They just sometimes need a little help getting their feet wet.
"My last year here, Schoop was just like 19. They're monsters now. … The sky's the limit, especially for them. So of course, I had nothing but smiles when I came in the locker room, [seeing] them. And they're still young as hell. They've still got a lot of room for improvement."
Orioles fans remember Andino's game-winning hit in the final game of the regular season against the Boston Red Sox in 2011 – a moment that helped eliminate Boston from playoff contention now coined locally as the "Curse of the Andino." Many think of that as his greatest contribution to the Orioles.
But the way he nurtured Machado and Schoop – helping them on their way to stardom – might have been more important to the team's success, as they went on to three playoff berths in the past five seasons.
"He helped me a lot," said Schoop, 25. "The first thing is he made you feel comfortable and make you feel like you belong here, [saying] 'Hey, you're good. Just work hard and everything will happen.' And that's what we did."
Machado, 24, said Andino impressed on him in the spring of 2012 that life in the big leagues is a challenge, and that it's important to find a routine to get your daily work in.
"He just kept it loose for us," Machado said. "He told us, 'You can have fun and do what you gotta do, but you're here to work. … As long as you work, everything will be fine.' I think him saying that really softened up things for me and Schoopy. We just went out there and tried to have fun."
When Machado was called up in August 2012, he said Andino – who started a career-high 96 games at second base that year with starter Brian Roberts hurt – took him under his wing.
"He told me, 'Let's go to the field. Let's go here. Let's go there,'" Machado said. "He just kind of showed me the ropes of the big leagues. You've got to get to the ballpark. You've got to get here early. You've got to do your work and then you have some time to chill and relax. Those are the things that he could teach you. … Just knowing that, you just kind of create good habits of working.
"You get those things down. That's the hardest thing to do. He was around for a while. He was around great players. He was around [Miguel Cabrera] in Miami, and Dontrelle [Willis]. … He knows what he's talking about. It's not just for [show]. He's been around, and he knows what to do. And when he told me all that, that sticks. You learn from other guys. The big leagues is about learning. You see how other people work and you say, 'I like that.' You take away little things. You see another guys and say, 'Oh [man], I like that, too.' And then you start picking people's brains and you create it into your own way."
Now, Andino – whose locker is flanked by those of Machado and Schoop in the Orioles main clubhouse in Sarasota – jokes around about how they've grown up. He joked with Machado about how he came to camp in 2012 with a Wilson glove, and he needed a Rawlings glove instead.
"I was telling him [back then], 'You gotta use a Rawlings, man,'" Andino said. "And he's got a [Rawlings] Platinum Glove [award] now. He's signed [an endorsement deal] with Jordan and all that. He's the man now. So I've just got to get back into it, fit back in again."
No longer are Machado and Schoop relegated to the auxiliary clubhouse in spring training. They're front and center, and happy they have an old friend back in camp in Andino.
"He's the same person," Machado said. "I was telling him [Monday], we were taking balls at short, 'Man, you haven't changed at all.' When you see good players like that, good defensive players that are going to be impactful to the team, those are guys who don't come around all that often."
"It's really good to have him back, sit down and talk with him, remember old memories," Schoop said. "He's like, 'I helped you guys, now you help me,' and that's fine."