Hardy’s former teammates excited about his arrival in camp

SARASOTA, Fla. - José Iglesias has video stored in his phone of three at-bats in the same game that concluded in the same fashion.

Three outs that remind him of J.J. Hardy’s mastery at shortstop.

Grounders in Hardy’s vicinity that appear to be infield hits until Iglesias hears the popping sounds from the first baseman’s mitt. The ball beats him to the bag by a fraction of a second.

hardy-fielding-gray-sidebar.jpgSo impressive that Iglesias can’t get angry about it. The opposing shortstop instead tips his cap to Hardy, winner of three Gold Gloves with the Orioles, and saves the video as a keepsake.

Iglesias will get the chance to share it with Hardy, who reports to Orioles camp this morning as a guest instructor.

“I got an opportunity to see J.J. a lot - ‘11, ‘12, ‘13, all of those years,” said Iglesias, who played in the American League with the Red Sox and Tigers. “Very solid player, very consistent. Actually, every time I hit a ball at him or in the hole, I always feel like I got a chance, but I don’t, because it was like a bam-bam play at first base all the time, even if it was a routine ground ball. J.J. would take his time and throw the ball.

“Great arm, man. The ball just carried. Great arm. Very fundamental. And what I loved about J.J. the most was just the routine ground ball, he was so good at it. J.J. was so consistent with that. And his range was OK, but his fundamentals were incredible.”

Former teammates got to know Hardy as a clubhouse leader as well as the infield’s signal-caller, from the time that the Orioles traded for him at the 2010 Winter Meetings until his final game in 2017.

“He was so important,” said outfielder Trey Mancini, who broke into the majors in September 2016. “He was another one of those guys who was here a little bit before the team started the playoff run, three times in five years, and he was the model of consistency for me.

“I remember watching him even when I was in the minor leagues. I tried to watch some of the Orioles games and I just remember him always being so solid at shortstop. And even before when he was on the Brewers, too. He’s just such a fun guy to watch and a hard-nosed player. He’s the epitome of doing things the right way, so I’m really excited to see him.”

The defensive decline in Baltimore coincided with Hardy’s absence - from injuries and free agency, which didn’t produce any interest in his services. And his leadership style was a nice contrast to the more vocal Adam Jones.

“We all know J.J., he’s not like the most rah-rah guy,” Mancini said. “He’s a more quiet and leads by example kind of guy. I really respect everything about him. He’s anther guy that I tried to emulate and learn from when I was a rookie and tried to put some of what I learned from him in practice.”

Chris Davis hasn’t seen Hardy in person since the 2017 season. There were occasional Facetime interactions and lately a few sentimental text messages.

“It means a lot just to have a guy that really not only played the game the right way, just went about his business the right way,” Davis said. “He was a true professional in everything that he did. He treated people consistently, he treated everybody with respect and kindness.

“For me, a guy that I have a lot of respect for, a lot of admiration for and a guy that I’ve missed a lot over the last few years. Just having a chance to play with him and on some really good teams.”

Davis was a Gold Glove finalist in 2016, a first baseman’s field work elevated by a shortstop.

“I think J.J. really helped me to take my game to the next level as far as defense is concerned,” Davis said. “I think we really made each other better on the field, and in turn I think we grew closer off the field because of that.

“I’m excited to see him. Maybe I can talk him into getting in the ping pong tournament with me so we can dominate. But just to have him around and have him around some of the other guys and give them kind of a feel for what it’s supposed to look like, you can tell. Even the fact that he’s not playing anymore, just him being around, guys will be able to tell, ‘This is what it looks like.’

“I’m fired up.”

Mychal Givens was introduced to Hardy while still playing shortstop, where the Orioles drafted him in 2009 before his conversion to pitcher.

“He was a complete leader,” Givens said. “I first saw him get traded over here when I was an infielder and I worked with J.J. and learned a lot from J.J. and I got to know him. And when I first got called up in ‘15, he was, like, one of the first guys to congratulate me.

“Everybody says he’s quiet, but he’s always there when you need him and to see him help Manny (Machado) and Schoopy (Jonathan Schoop) grow, we had one of the best defenses when we had J.J. on the field. He’s a team player and a team leader.”

Hardy’s lack of flashiness at shortstop was his style. Players throughout the league admired it. He rarely did anything worthy of inclusion in the nightly highlights, but was as steady as an ocean breeze.

Perfect positioning, accurate throws and an unbreakable clock for timing them gains admirers, but takes a while to be recognized with awards.

“He reminds me of Cal Ripken. He just gets the job done,” Givens said.

“They try to say that he doesn’t have the range, but he was a baseball guy. He didn’t need the analytics to tell him to move left or move right. He just read the swings of the bat and he was always there in the right spot or right time.

“It was simple - catch the ball, throw the ball - and I loved that about J.J. That was missed when he was hurt toward the end of his career and he stopped playing.”

Richard Bleier wonders if Hardy will remember him. The reliever came to the Orioles in spring training 2017 and Hardy missed three months of the season with a broken wrist.

Bleier is reminded that one of Hardy’s endearing traits, and it’s known throughout baseball, is that he remembers everybody. Players, coaches, public relations staff, interns, media. A brief interaction stays with him.

Friendships last a lifetime.

“I know that he drew a lot of respect from everyone,” Bleier said. “He was always very highly talked of, and my limited time with him was nothing but positives on and off the field. It was a joy to have him at shortstop behind me. That’s for sure. He was always very nice to me in the clubhouse and very respectful.

“He was a really good teammate.”

He’s also going to be a really good instructor. And certainly a popular one.

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