Former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters took a seat on the visiting bench this afternoon at Camden Yards, surrounded by television cameras and assorted microphones while wearing his red Nationals jacket and cap. The surroundings were familiar to him, but also strange. He may as well get used to it.
That’s how it’s going to be for Wieters as he returns to the city that embraced him as a first-round pick and four-time All-Star.
“It’s a different vantage point for sure, but it’s a good feeling coming in today and being able to walk into the Yard like I did for so many years,” he said. “It definitely brought a smile to my face and I’m excited to be able to play here again.”
Wieters isn’t thinking about the reception that awaits him. He’s leaving that to everyone else.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to really anticipate any reception. I enjoyed my time here and warm reception or not, it won’t change my feelings about the city and about the fans. I just hope I remember to walk into this dugout and not go into the other one.”
He’s off to a good start.
Asked for his favorite memory as an Orioles, Wieters couldn’t narrow it down to one.
“Lots of them,” he said. “I think debut, first time getting out there, is one that will always stick in my mind. And 2012, being able to get into the playoffs after grinding for so long. And more than that, the amount of relationships I made over there with Richie (Bancells) and E (Brian Ebel), the trainers, as well as J.J. (Hardy) and (Chris) Tillman and Jonesy (Adam Jones). I could go on and on with the amount of relationships I have well past the game.”
Wieters’ best line of the day came after he was asked when he knew that he wasn’t coming back to the Orioles. He flashed the sense of humor that made him such a popular teammate over the years.
“Well, once I signed with Washington, I thought it was going to be a long shot,” he said.
“No, it was something where really until late in the offseason I didn’t really have any idea where I was going. The door’s always open everywhere until you do sign, and once Washington looked like it was going to be the right fit, we moved forward with that.”
Was the decision to leave harder than he anticipated?
“It was really my best option at the time,” he said. “And whenever you have to make a decision, you weigh all your options and you take the best option at the time. And I felt like D.C. was a good fit for me and I felt like the team was built to win now, which was something I wanted to be part of. And really because of some ways the offseason went, it was the best fit for me.”
Wieters didn’t have much choice when it came to changing teams. The Orioles never made an offer.
“You always hope that you’ll play for the same team, but it was something to where I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “I didn’t have some offers for a while in the offseason because of the wrist injury, so I didn’t really know what was going to happen. But I was OK with that. It was a matter of I always believed we’re in certain places at certain times for a reason, and I was in Baltimore for so many years for a reason and now in D.C.”
At least he didn’t have to go very far, with D.C. in such close proximity to Baltimore and providing a short flight to his home in Georgia.
“It’s nice for my parents and my family to be able to come here, and that was big,” he said. “Like I said, we get to play in Atlanta three times, so I’ll be able to get back home three times a year, and it’s nice when you get to see friends and family throughout the course of this long season, and playing close to here I’ll be able to see a lot of people that I saw when I was in Baltimore.”
There’s bound to be some emotion attached to the home-and-home series beyond trying to win all four games.
“I will be a little amped up and I’m sure, I was saying this the other day, every time I do something for the first time you get a little bit of those butterflies,” he said. “I think the good thing is further you get in your career you learn how to handle them a little bit better. Coming back from first game you obviously have them, coming back when I came back from surgery I had them, and it will be the same thing here because I would have never experienced playing here from this side of the field.”
Adam Jones will bat second again tonight and likely provide some levity in his first trip to the plate with Wieters behind it.
“It’ll be loud,” Wieters said. “Hopefully, there’s not a mic around there somewhere. It will be good seeing these guys come to the plate. I remember when I was here and Nick (Markakis) came back, it was good just getting to see him. Even though it was weird in a different uniform, it’s still good to get to see somebody who is doing well and still doing their dream, which is playing baseball.”
Wieters should have a decent scouting report on Orioles starter Kevin Gausman.
“I can give them a few tips,” he said, grinning, “but he’s still got a pretty good arm and good stuff, so you’re still going to have to get some pitches to hit and not miss them.”
Here’s more from Wieters:
On whether the series is more exciting with both teams being good: “It’s very exciting, because when teams are playing as well as both of ours are right now, you kind of get a little bit of that playoff feel. Any time you can match up two teams that are playing well, it has that kind of, ‘OK, we’ve got to play our A game to be able to get a win here.’ Really, for the last four or five years it’s been like that. I think being able to match up their kind of lineup with our kind of lineup and their kind of bullpen against our kind of starters, it’s going to be a grind to see who can win this series.”
On whether it feels different playing for a team with bigger resources: “Yeah, even when I was here in Baltimore we were definitely building our core. But really, ever since Buck came on board, budget wasn’t an excuse. You’re playing to win over there and playing to get into the playoffs over there just like we are in D.C. now. It’s a matter of having guys who have played on other teams and now come here signing greater free agent deals, everybody kind of has a good feel of who they are because they’ve spent time in other places.
“The nice thing about Baltimore, the great thing about Baltimore, is that we all came together and we all learned together, so we all kind of learned the same way. Over here everybody’s kind of got some different experiences they can throw into the mix.”
On the importance personally of having a good season: “I think that’s your goal anytime, but we can’t control all those things, so we’re not going to worry about anything. But I enjoy playing. I enjoy playing every day and have a lot more fun when I’m able to get on the field, and I’m hoping to stay healthy and play as many games as possible. The ultimate goal is always to make a run in October and get a World Series.”
On whether he keeps up with the Orioles: “Yeah, on MASN you can watch both. You can catch up on things there. On top of that, I’ll follow all the guys and, if nothing else, just check the box score. It takes two seconds to see whether they win or lose and who did well. I’ll follow these guys and there’s no love lost because I’m not there this year. I still love all those guys in the clubhouse. l hope they do well. I just hope we do a little better this week.”
On the rivalry: “When both teams are competitive there’s going to be a rivalry no matter where you are. When you have proximity of how close we are and both being on the same network, there’s definitely a little bit of bragging rights that come out of this series. At the same time, it can be a friendly competition to where both teams want to win, but also both teams have bigger goals in mind, like being well suited for a long playoff run.”