He had replayed the moment in his mind many times before growing up, but Manny Machado didn't know exactly what playing in his first major league game would feel like. One thing was certain: Knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime event, he wanted to make sure he was able to make Thursday night memorable.
Less than 24 hours earlier, he came off the Double-A Bowie team bus after Wednesday night's game in Altoona and be told by manager Gary Kendall that he was about to become a big leaguer the next day.
He was surprised, to say the least. “Shocked” was the word Machado chose.
“I didn't know what to say,” Machado said. “I was tingling everywhere.”
This was the dream for Machado growing up outside Miami. And Thursday it was reality. The 20-year-old infielder, ranked the 9th-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America, was being summoned to Camden Yards to be part of a pennant race. Groomed to be the Orioles' shortstop of the future, he would start immediately by playing third base and hitting ninth in Thursday's 8-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
“It was totally different,” Machado said after the game. “A different feeling, a different atmosphere. But it was a great feeling. To be honest, it was great out there. The crowd was supporting us all the way. It was just a great feeling.
“It [was] going to be my first and only opening day debut that I'm going to make in my career,” he added. “So I had to sink that in.”
Machado was an immediate contributor, going 2-for-4, getting his first major league hit in his second at-bat on a fifth-inning triple. He scored the Orioles' first run one batter latter on Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly.
“Oh man, it was a load off my shoulder,” said Machado, who later pulled the ball from the hit out of his locker proudly. “I got my first hit, it was a triple and I'm just happy to get a hit.”
In the bottom of the second inning, Machado stepped to the plate for his first at-bat to a standing ovation and the emerging chants of “Man-ny” coming from the seating bowl. As Machado took the first pitch— a called-strike curveball from Royals left-hander Will Smith — camera bulbs flashed from around the stadium. Two pitches later, he grounded out to shortstop.
“He handled it well,” Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. “He made some nice plays at third. His swing, he kept it calm. I know my first game I was swinging out of my shoes and ended up with an 0-for-4 and nothing to show for it. He stayed nice and relaxed like he had been [here] all year.”
The last Oriole player who made his major league debut before his 21st birthday was pitcher Hayden Penn in 2005. The last position player was Eugene Kingsale in 1996.
Machado turned 20 last month.
“The only reason we did it, the biggest reason, is because we think he can help us win more games potentially,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said before the game. “Our needs, and where Manny was, we felt like he could help us. We've got 50ish games left, and we think he's our best option.”
The third overall pick in the 2010 first-year player draft out of Miami Brito Private, Machado had been swinging a hot bat in Double-A, hitting .444/.512/.889 with three doubles, two triples, three homers and seven RBIs over his last 10 games, including one game in which he hit for the cycle. And given that he was recalled this late in the season, he still won't be arbitration eligible until after his third full season.
“It was really a matter of when he was going to join the team, right?” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “I mean, he has all the skills. He is a really talented kid. And I like to see all the players go to Double-A and prove themselves there, and Manny did that.”
The Orioles began this plan to try Machado at third base back in May, when the organization sent roving infield instructor Bobby Dickerson to Bowie to introduce Machado to the fundamentals of the position. He played just two games at third for Bowie, but for the past two months, Machado has taken ground balls at there in pregame about four times a week. The key, Machado said, was repetition. If he made an error on one ball at third, he'd take 10 more.
Once Kendall told him he was joining the Orioles, Machado's first call was to his mother, Rosa Nunez, who initially didn't believe her son when he told her she should start looking for flights to Baltimore.
“She goes ‘Why?'” Machado said. “‘Well, I'm going up to Baltimore. I'm going to play tomorrow, third base.' She thought I was lying. She was like, ‘Are you serious or are you joking?' [I said,] ‘No, I'm serious. I got called up.'”
His second call was to his uncle, Geovany Brito, who was a major influence in teaching Machado the game and began crying over the phone when he heard the news.
Before he arrived in Baltimore, Machado received a congratulatory text message from Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.
“I told him to come here, be himself and have fun,” Jones said. “Don't think anything different. Don't play anything different. Game's the same. It's just it matters here.”
By midafternoon, Machado found himself at third base in an empty Camden Yards, working with infield coach DeMarlo Hale. Moments later, he was peppered with questions by the media and admitted he had butterflies.
“I was a little nervous at first, but after that first pitch was thrown, I felt good,” he said.
His first big league hit came in his second at-bat, in the fifth, when Machado laced a ball into the right-center field gap. Machado wheeled around the bases and slid into third headfirst to a round of cheers.
Machado added an infield single in the seventh, running out a slow roller to second baseman Chris Getz. Every time he was involved in a play, whether it was scoring a run or catching a pop-up in foul ground, the announced crowd of 21,226 grew a little louder.
Showalter wouldn't say before the game how much Machado would play — he will initially likely earn most of his starts against left-handed pitching like was the case on Thursday — but the Orioles manager was impressed with Machado's debut.
“I thought Manny did well,” Showalter said. "[He] presented himself well tonight. I’m proud of him. There was a nice calmness about him and a good start. He handled the situation well, all things considered.”
And while the Orioles didn't register a significant spike in walk-up sales for Thursday's game, Machado was on the minds of Orioles fans who attended the game.
“I think the biggest thing is that it's really just them showing that they want to compete and they want to win, and they think Machado, even if he's not ready to be a superstar, he's at least ready to contribute,” said 24-year-old Mike Croteau of Baltimore.
Cindy Kempa of Ocean City remembered watching Machado play last season at Low-A Delmarva.
“I'm thinking he's going to add a spark, add some youth,” said Kempa, 55. “He's the future. He has a good future with the Orioles. I see good things coming down the road.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Connor Letourneau contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times