SARASOTA, Fla. - Mark Trumbo took batting practice this morning on the replica Camden Yards field, testing out his surgically repaired right knee and gaining a truer sense of the rebuild that’s unfolding around him.
“I was probably seven or eight years older than anybody in the cage today,” he said, drawing laughter from the media at his locker.
Not that the 33-year-old Trumbo has any complaints about a youth movement or senses that he doesn’t belong in it.
“It’s really good,” he said. “What I like most about this is there’s a lot of competition and I think that’s one of the best things that can happen to any club is to have a lot of guys fighting for positions. I think that’s going to get the best out of everybody. And there’s hardly any spots that are really totally wrapped up here. There are a few that are probably spoken for, but a lot of it is wide open. We’ll see how it goes.”
This is why Trumbo’s leadership is valued in the organization. He can set the example.
It also allows Trumbo to pay it forward after veterans on the Angels took such good care of him in his early days. The clubhouse was overflowing with experienced players such as Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis. Pretty much the exact opposite of his current surroundings.
“I like talking hitting,” he said. “I’ll chat somebody up and see what they worked on this winter, especially with some of the new trends that are out there. People seek advice from some of the guys on the cutting edge of swings and angles and things, so that’s cool.
“Sometimes, it’s how to navigate your way through you first big league camp. What are some dos and don’ts. But if I set a good example, I figure there will probably be some people watching at times. That’s why it’s important, because these guys are soaking up everything they see from the few veterans around here, so if you’re doing it the wrong way they’re probably going to follow you. And that’s not what you really want.”
Trumbo is breaking camp with the team if healthy, if the knee doesn’t start barking and he can serve again as the designated hitter. There’s no real competition.
The only person who isn’t buying it is Trumbo, which brings us back to his value as a leader.
“I think the best thing I can do is play to the best of my ability and fight for a spot just like everyone else,” he said. “You don’t want anything just gift-wrapped to you in this game, at least me personally. I like to always feel like there’s somebody coming up behind you. But I’d like to see a lot of the steps that these guys take, especially ones that don’t have any experience at the top.
“It’s a fun process to see a guy on his first day and then maybe wrap up his first year and his second year. A guy like Trey (Mancini) comes to mind for that. You’ve seen him grow and this spring will be time for him to start probably doing some of his own leadership and helping the guys that are a little bit younger than him.”
Trumbo’s locker is at the opposite end of the row also inhabited by Mancini. It’s a shorter walk to the trainers’ room, one he hopes is used only for routine maintenance.
“We’ve done some really good work here,” he said. “I’ve been down here for about a week and a half now working with (head athletic trainer) Brian Ebel and the rest of the staff and there’s been nothing to hold us back, so we’re kind of ramping it up.
“I hit on the field today and have been throwing. I think sprinting will be the next hurdle and I think we’re getting into that.”
Trumbo’s offseason beyond rehabbing his knee also included his first venture into fatherhood. “A lot going on,” he said, “but all of it positive.”
He’s gotten used to that sort of tone, noticing it among the players at FanFest and again at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. A positive energy. Nothing to suggest that 115 losses and the multiple firings that followed beat them down.
“I think there’s a lot of guys who are ready to work, ready to learn, and I think everybody kind of understands where we are as a team and the challenges that are going to be coming,” Trumbo said. “But especially for some of these guys that are in the mix for a spot, they’re going to fight it out and you want them to fight it out until the end of spring, and whoever probably plays the best gets the job and that usually gives you a chance to have a pretty good season, too.
“It’s a confidence-builder to win a job out of spring and I think we’re going to be better for it.”
This is basically the message that new manager Brandon Hyde is dispersing in Sarasota. The message that started with his phone calls to players after the Orioles hired him and continued at minicamp.
“We’re going to compete,” Hyde said today. “That’s the bottom line is to compete with each other on a daily basis out here, compete when we break and go to New York. That’s going to be the overlying message is we’re going to prepare and we’re going to compete.”
Somehow, it keeps coming back to Trumbo and the few other veterans who can lead the way.
“I’ve talked to a lot of them. I’m going to rely on them heavily,” Hyde said.
“There’s a lot of really good veteran guys. The veteran guys here are unbelievable guys with high character that are team-first, that are egoless, that I’m going to rely heavily on. We’re going to have meetings. It’s going to be collaborative on how the clubhouse feel is, how the work’s going on on the field. Just the overall feel of the team, I’m going to rely heavily on them from their standpoint of how they feel about things.”
“It was a tough last year for the team,” said executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. “It was a lot of losses. It was a hard season, a lot of disappointing individual performances. I also think that the players now understand the new administration is in place, a new major league coaching staff. We’ve got all these seats filled and they’ve gotten to meet everybody.
“There’s a lot of optimism in terms of a fresh start and a big opportunity. We’re going to be taking a fresh look at really every position on the diamond. As you can see there are a lot of competitors for each spot and this camp’s going to be essentially an open competition wherever you look, so it’s excited for a lot of the young guys and the new guys here because they know they’ve got a chance to win a job.”
Hyde is starting his first season as a major league manager, but he’s no stranger to its camps.
“I think he’s more than ready for it,” Elias said. “He’s not coming from obscurity. He’s been the bench coach in Chicago and running their camps really with a veteran manager (Joe Maddon) who put a lot on Brandon’s plate, so he knows the ropes when it comes to spring training.
“For him, it’s just more about learning players, learning the habits of his coaching staff, learning the front office, things like that. We’re all getting to know each other a little bit, but in terms of the material new to a manager in spring training, he’s already all over that.”
Said Hyde: “I’ve been pretty hands-on with scheduling and with how we’re going to go about our camp, obviously, just because it’s our first year, new staff and getting to know the players. I’ve run big league camp a lot and it’s a major undertaking. It’s 60-something guys with a lot of coaches and fields. But obviously being in a different facility and how rotations are going to work, it’s exciting to be able to watch our guys for the first time, for sure.”