SARASOTA, Florida—In the nearly 2 ½ years since J.J. Hardy played his final game for the Orioles, he hasn’t watched his old team play, not in person and not on television.
The former shortstop gets his sports fix from watching the postseason on television and playing racquetball and pickleball, cycling, and chasing after his two small children.
The team he played for from 2011-2017 has changed completely. On Monday, he watched his first Oriole game since October 1, 2017, as a coach.
Hardy arrived in camp for a week as a guest instructor with the team.
“I enjoyed it. It’s kind of got that same feeling,” Hardy said. “There’s a good vibe here. It’s been a while since I’ve put [baseball] pants on. I put a [protective] cup on. I’m not planning to take any ground balls, but wanted to see what that felt like again.”
Hardy, 37, was a two-time All-Star, won the Gold Glove three times and the Silver Slugger once. He’s one of six former Orioles who’ve been in camp this spring.
Jeff Conine, Ben McDonald and Brian Roberts have come and gone. Mike Bordick, who worked on the broadcast of Monday’s game, and Scott McGregor have been in camp throughout.
Hardy won’t be going on the two-day trip to West Palm Beach and Jupiter, but he’ll stay in Sarasota and help out.
He didn’t recognize many players. Chris Davis and Trey Mancini are still here. So are Richard Bleier and Mychal Givens. Other players overlapped with Hardy just briefly — Miguel Castro, Anthony Santander, Tanner Scott and Chance Sisco.
“It totally is different,” Hardy said. “Coaching staff, front office, everything is changed in two years, so it doesn’t quite feel the same.
“The atmosphere, baseball, the guys, just the whole camaraderie in the clubhouse, all that stuff is the same.”
He doesn’t follow Orioles news but knows that some of his former teammates are elsewhere.
“I’ve heard a lot of things, like [Dylan] Bundy is in Anaheim, I guess, [Kevin] Gausman is in San Francisco,” Hardy said. “I had no idea.”
Hardy, who received a warm ovation when he threw out the first pitch on Monday, was never taken with the game’s trappings. What he misses are the simple things.
“I miss the camaraderie in the clubhouse,” Hardy said. “I miss the competition.
“I don’t miss the way my body felt, and the travel, and I remind myself all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night to go [to the bathroom], and I’m not crawling to the toilet, I’m actually able to walk and not be hurting. Or I go on a hike, and I’m walking down the mountain, and I’m going … ‘My knees don’t hurt.’ I feel like I got 18 years younger when I retired.”
Besides his new sports, Hardy was an excellent tennis player and golfer, and played a mean ping-pong game. He picked up a paddle for the first time since he played on Monday.
Hardy was a knowledgeable player, an expert on the game’s rules, and there was thought that he might coach or manage after he stopped playing. With two children who aren’t yet school age, he’s not thinking about a return to baseball at this point.
“I haven’t said no completely to that, and that’s why I’m here,” Hardy said. “I want to keep my foot in the door and not be forgotten because I think there will be a time for that, just right now with the kids at the age they are, it’s not right now.”
Hardy, who lives in Arizona, isn’t sure what role he would play.
“I still don’t know what I’m expecting,” Hardy said. “I’m basically waiting to be told, ‘go do this’ or ‘go do that.’ OK, I’ve got a week of whatever you guys want me to do.”
Early Monday morning, Hardy went into his first staff meeting and felt as if he were a stranger in a strange land.
“I guess I’m just going to follow some people around,” Hardy said.
He wants to learn more about analytics from Sig Mejdal, the team’s assistant general manager.
“I’d like to learn just a little about the infield analytics,” Hardy said. “I get pitching and all that stuff and hitting, but I’m curious about the infield stuff.”
Hardy was an instructor in the Milwaukee Brewers fantasy camp earlier this year and it was the first time he had thrown a ball since he stopped playing. He’ll get more physical in his remaining six days here.
“I haven’t picked up a bat in 2 ½ years,” Hardy said. “I don’t know if they want me hitting a fungo. We’ll see how that goes. If they need me to throw [batting practice], we’ll see how that goes, whatever they tell me to do. If I see something from a player, I might say something or maybe I’ll say something to another coach. I don’t want to step on anyone’s feet.”