SARASOTA, Fla. - Travis Ishikawa hopes that his next visit to Camden Yards includes a uniform and a locker.
Ishikawa, the first baseman signed as a minor league free agent on Dec. 19, has never played a game in Baltimore. However, he’s not a total stranger to the ballpark, having made one trip with his parents back in 1997.
Here’s where it gets a little weird.
In that game, a 10-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 20, plate umpire Al Clark ejected Cal Ripken in the bottom of the second inning - a detail that remains fresh in Ishikawa’s mind after 16 years.
“We didn’t stay very long,” said Ishikawa, a Seattle native whose family was vacationing on the East Coast. “It was hot and we only had standing room only tickets.”
(In case you need a reminder, here’s a story detailing Ripken’s ejection. Check out the byline.)
Ishikawa, 29, said a “handful” of teams were interested in him this winter. He chose the Orioles, sensing that he would have a legitimate chance to make the team as a non-roster invitee to camp, especially after they non-tendered Mark Reynolds.
“Just seemed like a good opportunity here,” he said. “They had a great year last year, a great run. Obviously, with Mark not coming back, it kind of opened up a spot, whether that be the first base position or the designated hitter.
“There are so many different options. I’ve always been in the National League, so we always lose a hitter with the pitcher hitting. It just seemed like out of all the options I had this offseason, the best chance to play would be here.
“In the end, it seemed like this was a great setup. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this organization. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Buck. When they came to me, it was exciting to hear they were interested.”
Another example of how the Orioles’ reputation has changed since Showalter’s arrival and last year’s playoff berth.
“I’m a West Coast kid, so growing up, I wasn’t an Orioles fan,” said Ishikawa, a career .264/.328/.405 hitter in parts of five major league seasons, the first four with the San Francisco Giants. “I didn’t root for them, didn’t follow them, anything like that. But last year, being in Milwaukee and just watching these guys over here and the incredible run they had, it just seemed like a great group of guys who played together really well. And I think Buck has a lot to do with that. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him, so I’m really excited to play for him.”
Executive vice president Dan Duquette signed Ishikawa because of his defensive reputation. He could back up Chris Davis at first base, serving as a safety net of sorts if his glove is needed, or start there at Triple-A Norfolk.
“I would have to say that’s probably my No. 1 tool,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to be very good defensively pretty much my whole life. I know pitching and defense win championships. As a first baseman, I know that offense is kind of a high priority from that position, but I’ve also got the mindset that if an infielder rushes his throw or is trying to make a great play and makes a bad throw and I can save him and make the out, saving two runs right there is just as good as hitting a two-run homer in some situations.
“I think my defense is definitely my best tool, but I’ve done everything in baseball. I’ve been a starter, I’ve come off the bench, I’ve played for a week and then been expected to produce. I just feel like I can bring so many different things to help the club out, wherever they need me.”
Four years in San Francisco and one in Milwaukee make Ishikawa a relative stranger to the American League beyond the occasional interleague game. Will he need to make any adjustments?
“I’ll tell you at the All-Star break,” he said, grinning. “I’ve talked to guys who have played in both leagues and they always tell me there is a difference, but they can never really tell me what it is. Hopefully, we’ll find out this year and I’ll be quick to make that adjustment, whatever it might be.
“There’s a lot of teams I’ve never played before, so it will be exciting to see some new ballparks.”
He’s already seen Camden Yards. Now he wants a better view.