When Boston Red Sox infielder Steve Pearce is standing on Camden Yards dirt, with the warehouse behind his back and tiers of hunter-green seats spreading out before him, strong memories of a former life crop up.
“Oh yeah, there’s a lot of familiarity,” he said. “I came over [to the Orioles] in 2012, and my last year was 2016. So, the drive in here, everything, it’s so familiar, it brings me back.”
Pearce drove out with the rest of the Red Sox on Sunday with a 4-1 victory and series sweep under his belt. Orioles manager Buck Showalter, with affection for his old player, was glad to see him go.
“Steve is a winning player. He’s a player that teams win with. That’s why his services are so warranted. … This time of year, they’re lucky to have him,” he said.
After signing with the Red Sox on June 28, the 12-year journeyman has officially played for every team in the American League East, logging a season and a half with the Toronto Blue Jays and parts of seasons for the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. Only tomorrow knows what his future with the Red Sox holds, but right now, Pearce’s tenure with the Orioles over parts of five seasons is his longest in the division — and he hasn’t forgotten.
“I came up with a lot of young guys, a lot of friendships,” Pearce said. “And the run that we made in 2014, that’s stuff I remember the most.”
The current Red Sox are flashing shades of those Orioles, in Pearce’s mind. When the first-place Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers in three games in the 2014 AL Division Series, he felt as if they had a real chance to win a title until getting swept themselves by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
“We pulled away with it pretty early [in 2014],” Pearce said. “We’re [the Red Sox are] on the same pace now, you know? You take each game day by day, game by game. Try not to look too much into the future, but, we know we’ve got something special going on here.”
Pearce seems to already be a key piece of that, batting .302/.390/.577 with 22 hits and six home runs — already better than even his best Orioles line of .293/.373/.556, recorded, of course, in 2014.
He got the better of his old team with a thundering solo homer Sunday that put the Red Sox ahead 1-0 in the first inning.
But it was on Saturday that Pearce, in his old manager’s mind, revealed what makes him a valuable asset to Boston’s playoff dreams.
“All you need to know about Steve Pearce is [Orioles outfielder Adam Jones] last night with a line drive to him that was going to short hop and he went down and put his chest [on it] … And that’s Steve,” Showalter said. “When you look up the definition of ‘baseball player,’ his face will be there. I mean, part of that has kept that from really staying on the field, too, cause that ball could hop up and hit him in the nose and break his nose and make him miss two weeks. That’s Steve.”
As much as he loved shouldering into an orange-stitched jersey every day, Pearce never laid roots in Baltimore, buying a house the way Jones did, or even former Orioles closer Koji Uehara, who kept his Baltimore home even while pitching for the Red Sox. Pearce lived on short and flexible apartment leases in places such as the Ritz Carlton Residences. It was his preferred way of living, and not a reflection on what stability he felt he had with the Orioles.
“Whatever team you play for, that becomes your home. You settle in because you have to,” Pearce said.
Though he didn’t venture around much, Pearce had his favorite spots, and that’s knowledge he extends to his current teammates when they roll into his old haunt. Had Saturday’s nightcap not ended so late, he planned on leading the Red Sox to L.P. Steamers in South Baltimore, a brick joint where Old Bay-crusted crabs pile high on tables. What else could you expect from an ex-Baltimorean?
But as nostalgic as crustaceans or the smell of Chesapeake baywater could be for someone else, nothing in Baltimore hits Pearce the same way just walking into Camden Yards does.
Even in Red Sox gear, Pearce happily catches up with Showalter and coaches Bobby Dickerson and Wayne Kirby. After all, along with Chris Davis, Jones, Caleb Joseph and a handful of players who arrived by 2016, the coaches are what’s left of Pearce’s Orioles era.
“Yeah, this team is definitely very different since they got rid of Manny [Machado], [Jonathan] Schoop, [Zach] Britton,” Pearce said. “Yeah, this team looks a little different, but it’s still the same to me when I walk onto the field.”