After an offseason defined by a challenging job search, former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters starts a new chapter in his career - 39 miles south of Camden Yards.
A week into spring training, Wieters signed a contract - one year and an option - to catch for the Nationals. On May 8-9, the Nationals come to Camden Yards, and Orioles fans will see for the first time Wieters emerging from the third-base dugout wearing an opponent’s road gray.
He’ll wear No. 32, the number he had with the Orioles.
It will be a strange scene, considering Wieters, the best catcher in franchise history, was key in molding the Orioles into a consistent winner. The Orioles lost at least 92 games a season from 2006 through 2011.
Wieters was the fifth pick in the draft by the Orioles in 2007. In 2012, he - along with Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy and Chris Tillman - was part of a nucleus that helped the Orioles make the postseason for the first time since 1997.
Wieters hit a career-high 23 home runs that season. The Orioles lost to the Yankees in the American League Division Series.
Part of Wieters’ legacy in Baltimore will be questions about his legacy.
When he signed out of Georgia Tech, expectations were ridiculously high, with him a certainty for Cooperstown.
Would he be the next Carlton Fisk or Yogi Berra? And would Wieters be the savior of the Orioles franchise?
Wieters was labeled “Mauer with power,” referring to the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer, who has won an AL MVP and three batting titles.
The 6-foot-5 Wieters plays strong defense with a rifle arm. He’s a switch-hitter with 20-home run power and the ability to drive the ball to all fields.
On May 29, 2009, Wieters played his first game in Camden Yards, going 0-for-4 in a 7-2 win against Detroit. Attendance was 42,704, a night after the team drew a combined 35,000 for the previous three games.
The next night, before 34,567, Wieters delivered his first big league hit, a triple against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. Wieters also hit a double in that game against the Tigers bullpen.
Wieters hit .288 as a rookie. He had three 20-home run seasons for the Orioles. He won two Gold Glove Awards and played in four All-Star Games. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2010.
His 2014 and 2015 seasons were derailed by Tommy John surgery.
In 2014, he was off to an MVP-type start, hitting .308 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in his first 26 games, before the elbow injury put him on the sideline.
Last season, in his final game as an Oriole at Camden Yards, he hit two home runs in a 5-2 win against the Yankees.
Then there was the hard walk-off loss at Toronto in the AL wild card game. Replays show that he knew the second that the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion connected, the ball was gone and the Orioles’ season over.
This spring, the 30-year-old Wieters, the most prominent player to play for both teams in the mid-Atlantic, becomes the Nationals catcher, replacing Derek Norris.
The Nationals, who have lost in the first round of the playoffs three times since moving to D.C. in 2005, hope that Wieters will help them take the next postseason step.
Not long ago, Wieters helped the Orioles take the next step, transforming from them from a losing team to a powerhouse.
It’s a legacy that will not be forgotten in Baltimore.