WASHINGTON—After 13 seasons and nearly 2,200 hits, Nick Markakis is finally an All-Star. For years when he was a perfectly qualified candidate, Markakis insisted he’d prefer having a few days off with his family at the All-Star break instead of playing in the game.
At 34, Markakis is ready for his All-Star Game. He’ll bat seventh and play right field for the National League on Tuesday.
Four years removed from a storied Orioles career, Markakis is enjoying his best major league season with a .323/.389/.488 slash line with the Atlanta Braves, who have surprised many in baseball with a 52-42 record, just a half game out of first place in the NL East.
With his three young sons in tow, Markakis showed why he’s had a different attitude about his first All-Star appearance.
“These guys, they’re probably more excited than I am,” Markakis said. “I’m happy for them. I’m happy for my family that they get to experience it.”
Now that he’s actually at the game instead of at his Monkton, Md., home, he’s all for it.
“I’ve never been here,” Markakis said. “You’re here with the best baseball players in the world. What else can you ask for?”
Markakis even admits to enjoying it—albeit with a caveat.
“I am. I am. It’s a lot of media time, which I’m really excited about,” he joked.
For Markakis, it was ideal that the game was taking place just 60 miles away from his family’s home. When the game is over, he can decompress with his family for two days before he returns here for a three-game series with the Nationals.
Markakis was a well-liked teammate and is still admired by fans, who were disappointed when he left the Orioles after the 2014 season.
Last month when the Orioles visited Atlanta, they played against Markakis for the first time since 2015. In the interim, the Braves have built a competitive team full of appealing players, and the Orioles have fallen flat.
Markakis still follows what’s going on in Baltimore, but knows where his priorities lie.
“I’ve got to worry about what’s going on with us over there in Atlanta,” Markakis said.
“You know what they’re going through. It’s tough, and it’s draining. Then again, we’re playing baseball. We’re getting paid to play baseball. We’re getting paid a lot of money to play a kid’s game.”
While the Braves aren’t thought to be one of the top contenders in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, they have been interested in him and have a deep farm system.
“He can do for us what he can do for any other team,” Markakis said. “One of the top players in the game, defensively and offensively. No matter who he goes to, somebody is going to be very lucky. They’re going to get a good guy and a great baseball player.
“You can put him anywhere in the order, you can put him anywhere on the field. He’s an athlete. I love him. When he came up, he’s one of the few guys that I never saw struggle.”
If this is his lone All-Star appearance, Markakis will make the most of it. He’s glad that it came at this point in his career.
“My kids will always remember it,” Markakis said. “To have these guys here means the world to me.”
One that got away
At the non-waiver trade deadline in 2013, the Orioles included a raw young pitcher in the deal with Houston that brought Bud Norris to Baltimore.
Josh Hader was a 19-year-old left-hander at Delmarva, a 19th-round draft choice the year before. Hader was signed by Dean Albany, who thought he had found a hidden gem.
There was a lot of angst in the organization about trading Hader , who’s from Millersville, Md., and went to Old Mill High School. But the Orioles really wanted Norris, who won 15 games the next year for the team that handily won the AL East.
It took Hader nearly four years and another trade from Houston to Milwaukee to make the majors. Since debuting with the Brewers in June 2017, Hader has been outstanding.
His 2-0 record, 1.50 ERA and 0.792 WHIP earned him a trip to the All-Star Game. The Orioles could certainly use a left-hander who allows fewer than four hits per nine innings and strikes out nearly 17 hitters per nine.
Hader said he was disappointed that he was traded away.
“At first, obviously, that’s what you want to be, you want to be the hometown guy,” Hader said. “You go through the minor league system and make your debut in front of all your fans, your family and friends. The main goal is to be a big leaguer, and be a big leaguer for as long as you possibly can.”