When catcher Matt Wieters came up to the Orioles at 23 in 2009, his plan was to win a World Series and be an Oriole for life.
Then in 2014, when Nick Markakis signed with Atlanta and Nelson Cruz went to Seattle, the reality of baseball as a business hit Wieters for the first time. He wondered about his future.
“When Nick and Nelson left, I realized we weren’t going to have a 12-year run with the same guys,’’ Wieters said. “I think every player wants to play his entire career with the team that drafts him, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
“But you don’t ever picture yourself with another team.
“I enjoyed my time in Baltimore. But I don’t look back. I have no regrets.’‘
After an offseason defined by a challenging job search, Wieters is enjoying a new chapter in his career, 39 miles south of Camden Yards, as a catcher with the Washington Nationals, leaders in the National League East and likely the best team in the league.
The switch-hitter bats eighth in a lineup stacked with speed, power and high on-base percentages.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Nationals are in Camden Yards, and Orioles fans will see for the first time Wieters emerging from the third base dugout wearing his familiar No. 32, only the numerals will be in Nationals red. And the uniform will be gray.
The curly W replaces the Orioles bird on the cap.
It will be a strange scene, considering Wieters 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, Nick Markakis 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 New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.
The postseason crowds at Camden Yards are his best memory.
“I’ll never forget how loud the fans were in the 2012 playoffs,’’ Wieters said. “It was louder than an NBA arena.’‘
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.
Wieters, 30, is the most prominent player to play for both the Orioles and Nationals.
The Nationals have lost in the first round of the playoffs three times since moving to D.C. in 2005, so they hope adding Wieters can help them take the next step.
Not long ago, Wieters, helped the Orioles take the next step, transforming them from a losing team to an AL powerhouse.
It’s a legacy that will not be forgotten in Baltimore, one Wieters hopes to repeat in Washington.