It wasn’t a perfect day for a tailgate party, but Orioles star Trey Mancini seemed to be right in his element.
He hosted this year’s Purple Tailgate benefit outside M&T Bank Stadium, and he wasn’t going to let steady drizzle and the winter chill get in the way of a great time for a large crowd of Ravens fans and the beneficiary of the annual fund-raising event — 13-year-old Mo Gaba.
“The weather’s not ideal,” Mancini said, "but luckily Notre Dame tailgates prepared me for some tough conditions. I’m honestly so touched by how many people came out, especially with the weather. It’s a great turnout and everybody seems to be having a good time. So, I’m really happy about that and that we could do this for Mo.”
Gaba is battling cancer for the fourth time, but he took the stage Sunday morning and led the crowd in a couple of big cheers before the Ravens took on the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers a few hundred yards away.
“Go Ravens!” he shouted, and the fans delivered a loud response.
“What time is it?” he baited the crowd, which bellowed back that it was time for a Ravens victory.
Gaba has become of a local celebrity around Baltimore because of his inspiring story and his superfan support of both the Ravens and the Orioles.
“Whenever you meet him, he just lights up the room,” Mancini said. “He has such a positive attitude and he looks great today. He’s walking around and he looks really good. It’s good to hang out with him and see that he’s doing well.”
Former Oriole Adam Jones had hosted his annual #StayHungry Purple Tailgate Party for the past six years, but Mancini took the handoff when Jones was not retained by the team and signed a free-agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks last winter.
“I know the Purple Tailgate has been in existence for awhile and we didn’t want to see it go away,” Mancini said. “And, obviously, I wanted to put my own little spin on it, because you can’t really fill Adam’s shoes. I’m happy to do this and keep it going.”
The big question, however, is whether Mancini might have to turn the event over to another teammate before next football season. Major League Baseball’s winter meetings loom just a week away and, while Orioles executive vice president Mike Elias has said recently he hopes to keep Mancini, he would not rule out a trade if he felt it would enhance the team’s overall talent.
Mancini said that he doesn’t think he’s headed out of town anytime soon.
“I really don’t think so," he said. "I feel very similarly to like I did at the All-Star break this year. I’m pretty confident that I’m going to stay. I’d like to stay obviously. It’s out of my control, but I like my chances of staying.”
He did, however, express some regret that the club just placed veteran infielder Jonathan Villar on outright waivers.
“It’s tough," Mancini said. "He had such a good year. I’ve said it a ton of times this year. He’s possibly the most underrated player in baseball. I mean that. Whether he’s with us or another team, he’s really going to help whatever team he’s on this year. But it’s just one of those decisions you have to make when you’re going through a rebuild.”
Villar had a strong all-around season in which he hit 24 homers, drove in 73 runs and stole 40 bases while playing both middle infield positions, but was expected to command about $10 million in salary arbitration. Elias obviously could not see spending that much money on a veteran during what might be another 100-loss season.
“I think everybody realizes, Elias and Sig [Mejdal], they know what they’re doing," Mancini said. "Look what they did in Houston, so I think a lot of people here really trust the process. We’ve got a very knowledgable fan base here and they know what it takes in a rebuild.
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"It’s tough. Villar is such a good player. He’s such a good guy to have around. He really rallies the team when we need to be rallied. If he not with us, we’ll definitely miss that. But the fans should know that every decision that is made is for the good of the organization in the long run.”