Every step Trey Mancini took toward his locker in the Houston Astros’ clubhouse at Camden Yards on Thursday felt familiar, but was completely different.

Getting off the plane at Marshall Airport BWI and then heading down Interstate 295 to Baltimore? It was “a drive I’ve done 1,000 times, probably for different reasons,” Mancini said hours before he faced his former team for the first time at Camden Yards. He arrived at the Orioles’ home field on the Astros’ team bus instead of driving himself and parking in the player’s lot. Inside the stadium’s lower-level tunnel, he walked farther toward third base than he ever had before, heading toward the visitors’ clubhouse instead of where he spent parts of six seasons with a special locker.

“It’s so familiar,” Mancini said, “but you have to remember that you’re here now as a guest.”

He was greeted as if he were still at home. As Mancini warmed up before the game, the Orioles played a minute-long video on the Camden Yards scoreboard that ended with “Thanks, Trey.” Another standing ovation came when he came to bat in the second innings, removing his helmet to acknowledge the fan base that meant as much to him as he did to her.

There he met his bride Sarah Perlman. That’s where he battled Stage 3 colon cancer, which kept him out of the 2020 season. That’s where he was welcomed and loved for a 2021 campaign that was the best story in sports.

“My relationship with the city goes beyond baseball,” Mancini said, “and always will.”

The Orioles traded Mancini, at the time their longest-tenured player, to the Astros for two prospects on Aug. 1. A few weeks later, they visited Houston, allowing Mancini to shake off any jitters he might have felt about the team that drafted him in 2013 and called him up to the majors three years later. He said his feelings about returning to Camden Yards were more excitement than nervousness.

Otherwise, this four-game streak means little for the Astros, who have locked up the American League West to guarantee Mancini his second career postseason berth. Baltimore, however, entered Thursday 4 1/2 games out of the wild-card spot with 14 games remaining. They were a .500 club when they traded Mancini, three games out of a playoff spot thanks to a 27-16 record after a slow start, and have since gone 26-20 entering Thursday having lost 10 of their last 16 games.

“I was happy to see him go to such a good team and a really winning organization,” outfielder Austin Hayes said. “But at the same time, selfishly, I wanted him to continue to be my teammate and be a part of this organization, so it was tough, but that’s all part of it.”

Hayes and his teammates, however, said they didn’t allow themselves to wonder if this season might have gone differently if the team had stuck with Mancini and Jorge Lopez instead of trading them for the future without making significant additions to the roster. . After the Mancini deal, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias cited the possibility of the playoffs in rationalizing the trade, though he has since retracted those comments. The players, however, responded by staying in the race.

“The thing about baseball is there’s a lot of what if and a lot of hindsight in certain aspects,” outfielder Cedric Mullins said. “It’s just a matter of going out and doing your part at the end of the day.”

Mancini admitted he’s trying to “get a little more consistent” with Houston, hitting .193/.281/407 since trade. But his bat, which nearly landed him in the All-Star Game in 2019, would add to an Orioles lineup that has struggled of late.

“You never know,” infielder Ramon Urias said. “What if we had Trey? We can do better. I don’t know. We’re a different team now, but I think Trey did a good job for us.”

The day Mancini was sold, there were “a lot of hugs and tears,” Hayes recalled. Outfielder Anthony Santander hugged the autographed shirt Mancini gave him as a thank you to his longtime teammates. Santander said Thursday that he plans to frame the jersey and hang it in his Miami home.

He laughed about how frustrated Mancini would get when he plays, reminding him to relax, saying: “You’re the best hitter here.” Thanks to trade, that’s no longer the case, but the connection remains.

“At the end of the day, it’s out of our control,” Santander said through team translator Brandon Quinones. “We can’t really control that, and right now we feel like we have a really good chance to still compete and play and do a good job, so that’s all we can do right now.”

Although it took an adjustment for Mancini to find it Thursday, he felt welcome in the Astros clubhouse. He was excited to join a team with World Series aspirations, but he believes he left an organization that aspires to the same level.

“These guys have such a great culture here,” Mancini said. “From the moment I was traded, I felt welcomed and part of the team, and that’s just a testament to everything they’ve built here and what they’ve done. And that’s definitely what Baltimore is going to do there, creating a culture where when guys are traded, they’re called up there, they feel welcome and a part of the team right away, and that’s contagious.

“I’m really proud of what they’ve done.”

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https://www.readingeagle.com/2022/09/23/orioles-not-concerned-with-what-ifs-as-trey-mancini-returns-to-camden-yards-with-astros/

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