On the other side of the room is right fielder Nick Markakis, sitting quietly at his locker, rarely looking up. Markakis' choice of nonbaseball duds is often tan and green camouflage. Earlier this season Markakis walked into Camden Yards in head-to-toe camo, looking as if he had just vacated a tree stand in the woods.
When he removed his pullover to reveal a black T-shirt underneath, reliever Ryan Webb immediately quipped, “Hey, Nick, when did you get here?” His teammates broke up laughing.
It's a typical pregame scene at Camden Yards: Jones is center stage; Markakis, the woodwork. But when the two take the field together — as they have on most summer days for the past seven seasons — they become unified partners for one purpose: capturing the Orioles' first World Series title in 31 years.
“They probably could not have two different personalities as far as how they deal with day-to-day life, how they deal with the media, how they deal with everything,” said catcher Matt Wieters, who has been teammates with both since 2009. “But when it comes down to a baseball game, those guys are doing everything they can to be a good baseball player. Off the field, they have different interests, different things they like to do. But on the field, they both have one supreme goal, which you can really see when they are out there.”
The Orioles, winners of the American League East crown, begin their pursuit of an elusive championship Thursday at Camden Yards against the AL Central-winning Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series.
They've gotten to this point by hitting more home runs than any other major league club, with slugger Nelson Cruz leading the way with a majors-best 40. They've also gotten this far thanks to a surprisingly stingy pitching staff that posted the third-best ERA in the AL. Their starting pitching has been consistently good, their bullpen has been outstanding, and they finished tied for third in the AL in errors committed.
Simply put, the Orioles are division winners for the first time in 17 years because they've had a concerted team effort for a full season. Markakis and Jones receive much of the credit for setting that tone.
“These two are the leaders. It doesn't matter the situation they are in, they always feel for the team,” said Cruz, who is in his first year with the Orioles. “They are true athletes. True players who love the game. And the way they go about their business is really like nobody else.”
No days off
Jones, Markakis and Cruz are the only Orioles to play at least 150 games this season. Jones has played in 149 or more in each of his past five seasons; Markakis has logged 147 or more games in eight of nine, including five years with 160 or more.
“We battle every day together. We don't take any days off. We've played together more than anybody else on this team. I don't know, we've just been together,” Markakis said. “We have been through a lot of tough times here, and now we're enjoying the good times.”
In the previous 16 seasons, the Orioles made the playoffs just once, in 2012. In September of that year, Markakis broke his thumb when he was struck by a fastball from the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia. It cost him the rest of the season and his only other shot at the postseason. That's not lost on his teammates.
“I know everything about that. And I couldn't be happier for him,” said Cruz, who has played in two World Series. “I cannot be more excited about one player in particular in the playoffs than Markakis.”
As the likelihood increased that the Orioles were going to reach the postseason, Markakis tried to downplay his individual storyline, simply saying, “It's what you work for, it's what you prepare for in the offseason and through the course of a season. … You want to play in October.”
In early September, Jones started teasing Markakis for being “in shock” that the playoffs were on the horizon. When they clinched the division Sept. 16 at Camden Yards, Jones, who has been smashing pies into the faces of the club's players of the game for several seasons, grabbed a cream pie and beelined for Markakis.
Markakis, who was holding his youngest son in his left arm, barely reacted when Jones shoved the dessert into his face. Markakis stood there for a moment as if nothing had happened, and then swiped his right index finger across his cheek and put it to his little boy's lips so he could taste the treat. You could almost make out a huge smile on Markakis' face underneath the layer of cream and crumbs.
“I was thinking about that night and how unbelievably happy they were. When you get your noses bloodied together and more importantly you get it rubbed in it together, there's a real” partnership, manager Buck Showalter said about Markakis and Jones. “They were like two kids winning the Little League state championship. I got so much joy out of seeing how excited they were.”
No players have been with the major league club longer than the duo. Markakis, 30, was the Orioles' first-round pick in 2003 and made the majors on Opening Day 2006. Jones, 29, joined him two seasons later in the spring of 2008 after he was dealt to the Orioles by the Seattle Mariners in the trade for Erik Bedard.
They have played 960 games together, sixth-most by any current pair of active teammates in baseball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only one pair of outfielders is ahead of them: the Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, who have played together in 986 games.
Markakis' and Jones' relationship goes back to 2005, when they were teammates on the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League. Markakis was on the cusp of the major leagues while Jones was a raw talent, a shortstop who was converting to the outfield that fall.
“You could tell he was kind of new out there, but it almost seemed natural to him, too,” Markakis said. “He has come a long way; he has learned a lot. I think that's the biggest thing. He is a lot smarter out there now. When he was younger he was kind of reckless.”
Because they had been teammates in the AFL, Jones said he paid some attention to Markakis' career with the Orioles in 2006 and 2007. But it wasn't until they became Orioles teammates in 2008 that a friendship formed.
The next year, during an awful 98-loss season, the Orioles decided to market the players together. The organization nicknamed the right-center-field bleachers “2110 Eutaw Street” — for Markakis' uniform No. 21, Jones' No. 10 and the walkway that runs behind those seats — and offered $21 tickets with “I Live at 2110 Eutaw Street” T-shirts included.
Markakis had one of his best seasons that year, hitting 18 homers, driving in 101 runs while batting .293 with a .801 on-base-plus slugging percentage. It was the first season of a six-year, $66.1 million contract extension.
Jones, who turned 24 that year, watched how important it was to Markakis to be in the lineup for just about every game after signing his deal. That made an impression on Jones.
And when it came time for his extension — a six-year, $85.5 million pact in 2012 that was the largest in club history — Jones made a point of saying he would follow Markakis' lead and play as hard and as often as he could to show that his motivation was more than monetary.
Jones is now a four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner who has hit 25 or more homers, driven in 80 or more runs and batted .280 or better in each of the past four seasons.
Markakis' power has dropped since 2009 — he hasn't hit more than 15 homers since — but he has filled in admirably as the club's leadoff hitter this year, working counts and putting the ball in play. He also didn't make an error in 2014, putting him in position to win his second Gold Glove.
“Markakis being the leadoff guy, he set the tone for everybody else. I remember in the middle of the season he was the guy, when we needed the clutch hit late in the games, he delivered,” Cruz said. “Jones, he is there every day and he will give you solid at-bats and hits almost every game. Those two, to me, are top in the league defensively. Maybe the best 1-2 punch in the league in the outfield. Their presence is just huge.”
It's a sentiment also held outside the Orioles clubhouse.
“They are right at the top. You aren't going to find two better defenders,” Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “Markakis has been as steady as can be throughout his whole career. Jones came into his own a few years ago, and he's one of the top. He can do everything. … They are two of the better players in the game.”
They are also the Orioles' two highest-paid players this season. Markakis makes $15 million, Jones $13 million. Yet you wouldn't know it by the way they act or dress or live.
“We've got very nice homes, we travel comfortably, but our everyday appearance is normal, as if we blend into society. Why? Because that's who we are,” Jones said. “If I see [Markakis] on the street, the last thing you would think of is this guy is making $15 million. That's the last thing you would think of. But that's the beauty of him and not judging a book by its cover.”
Advice on, off field
As their lives have progressed, so has their relationship. Markakis has gotten Jones to get into hunting, at least “slowly,” Jones said. And now that Jones had a son earlier this year, he's asked Markakis, a father of three boys, for advice.
“He's a year and a half older than me, so I've learned a lot from him in the aspects of parenting, and even on-the-field play and how he carries himself off the field,” Jones said. “Obviously we are different. But small things rub off on both of us. … He's still Markakis, but he's opened up a little bit over the last couple years. I like to think I helped out with that.”
One area in which they probably never will come together is music. Jones, who grew up in San Diego, loves hip-hop, rap and R&B; Markakis, whose teenage years were spent 30 miles north of Atlanta, prefers country.
“We're opposite ends of the spectrum,” Jones said. “I don't hate country. I don't hate anything. But I'm not going to buy a country album.”
And what's the closest thing to rap music that Markakis enjoys? With a head shake, Jones said it's Tupac Shakur, who has been dead for nearly two decades. Something that old barely counts for Jones.
“That's '96,” Jones said. “Come on, he was 12 years old when that was going on.”
They're also vastly different when it comes to technology and social media. Jones has more than 153,000 Twitter followers and has tweeted in excess of 21,000 times. Forget about Twitter, Markakis doesn't even have an active email; if close friends want to send him something via email, they do it through his wife's account.
“That's the beauty of this game. You bring people from all over the world and all different walks of life and put them together in a locker room for eight months a year and see what happens,” Orioles reliever Darren O'Day said. “This locker room stays pretty civil, and a lot of it is due to those two guys setting an example of friendship and kind of keeping it loose.”
It's possible that this October will be the last time the two will play side by side. Markakis will be a free agent at season's end if he or the Orioles decline to exercise a $17.5 million mutual option.
Both sides would like to agree to another extension, but Markakis likely will be a sought-after free agent and the Orioles have other contract decisions to make on players such as Cruz and shortstop J.J. Hardy. So next year Markakis could look to his right and see another center fielder beside him.
“Everything would be weird and would be different,” Markakis said. “I have played with him, what, seven years now? I know how he plays center field; he knows how I play right field. … We play well together out there.”
At some point, the two won't be roaming the Camden Yards outfield together, whether it's next season or years into the future. In Orioles lore, though, they might forever be linked like Brooks and Frank Robinson, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor, Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray, or Cal Ripken Jr. and Brady Anderson. Different personalities from different worlds who created a lasting bond through Orioles baseball.
“It's a brotherly love,” Jones said. “But, even more so, a teammate love.”
Most games played together among teammates active in 2014
1,194 — SS Derek Jeter and 3B Alex Rodriguez*, New York Yankees
1,178 — 1B Ryan Howard and Rollins, Phillies
1,157 — Howard and Utley, Phillies
986 — OF Andre Ethier and OF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
960 — OF Adam Jones and OF Nick Markakis, Orioles
Stats through Sunday; regular-season games only.
* -- currently suspended
Source: Elias Sports Bureau