Mancini: “I love this team and being a leader on this team”

The repetition and predictability bring such amusement to Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini that he’s able to crack a joke about missing the 2020 season and experiencing the most frightening moments of his life.

Mancini’s name is coming up again in rumors and speculation as the trade deadline approaches. The media wants to know whether he’s heard anything, how he’d react to leaving the organization, if he thinks the Orioles will attempt to negotiate an extension.

You can set your baseball watch to it.

“We had a break last year, I guess,” he said yesterday, laughing at the idea that anything good could materialize from a cancer diagnosis.

Mancini has regained his chip status and teams are checking on his availability, leaving an outside chance that a deal is struck before Friday at 4 p.m. He appears more likely to remain with the Orioles and finish a four-game series in Detroit, but the possibility exists, however slim, that an offer comes along that can’t be refused.

“I’ve been through the wringer as far as this is concerned,” Mancini said after finishing batting practice. “Obviously, there’s a lot of movement and tension and things like that this week with how many moves are being made, but it’s something that, I think, over my career I’ve done a pretty good job of not paying much attention to, and I’d say it’s the same right now.”

Until a reporter asks about it.

Mancini could be reading from the same script that he held in 2018 and 2019, and again earlier this year after it became apparent that he’d make a full comeback. He wants to stay. He expects to stay. He’s prepared for the possibility that he does not.

“Again, it’s nothing that I put much thought into and again, it’s something that I can’t control,” he said. “I’m aware. I’m in my fifth year, I have one year of arbitration left and I’m also aware where the organization is and Mike (Elias) has a job to do. And whether that’s to keep me or if he does like a package that would be offered, I’d completely understand if he wanted to pull the trigger on it.

Thumbnail image for Mancini-Hatless-White-ST-sidebar.jpg“I know how the business works, and this is a business. No one person is bigger than the organization, and that goes for me, as well, and I’m aware of that, but also, I love the Orioles. I have been in the organization for over eight years now, which is even crazy for me to think about, how fast time goes. I do love it here, I’m comfortable here, I love this team and being a leader on this team, so I’m just going to keep doing that.”

The drama doesn’t fade after Friday. It’s just put on hold again.

Mancini could be shopped at the Winter Meetings or draw more interest next July as a rental for a contender, his value shortened by his pending free agency.

“Of course, of course, and that’s just how it is,” he said. “We’re in a rebuild and I see things turning and I like some things I’ve seen, especially in the second half. I know it’s a small sample size, but hopefully we can keep that going. And we’ve got a lot of talented guys in the minor leagues. But again, I have one year left of arbitration and there hasn’t really been any sort of contract talks, so I know at some point something will give one way or the other.

“Again, I hope to stay. I love it, I love being here. That’s my stance on everything. I know that Mike has a job to do at the same time, and either way I completely understand that.”

Extensions and the money required to consummate them seem to clash with a rebuild, but the Orioles have shown a willingness to consider the idea, regarding Mancini as a special case.

“That makes me feel great and it goes both ways,” Mancini said. “I have the upmost respect for them and this organization, and I really have loved every second of being a part of this organization and it does mean a lot to hear that. So, no matter what, I’m so appreciative for all the opportunities I’ve been given here and I hope to continue here and build even more memories and things like that, but either way I’m just so thankful.”

Mancini has heard from his agent, Mark Rodgers, on a few occasions recently, but nothing to do with the deadline or his contract.

There’s actual life outside the trade winds.

“He coaches a Little League team that just won the Florida state championship and they’re about to play in the Southeast Regional to go to the Little League World Series, so I talked to his team the other day,” Mancini said. “He called me about that. So, he has called me a couple times and for a second I’m like, ‘Oh, Mark’s calling me,’ but it’s either that or something else.”

Leaving the Orioles this week would enable Mancini to jump into a playoff race rather than drift through the last few months as a possible spoiler. Of course, there’s a certain appeal to it.

It just doesn’t drive his preferences.

“I mean, honestly, it would be very cool,” he said. “I got called up in 2016 and two weeks later I experienced a wild card game, which is pretty rare. I’ve learned it’s hard to get to the playoffs, it’s rare to get to experience that and at the time with the team we had, they had a lot of success, so I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, here we go, man. This is what it’s like.’ And unfortunately, 2017 was very up and down, but in September we had another opportunity to get there and just had a really bad month. And since then it’s been kind of tough times and we’ve lost a lot, so obviously I do really want to win.

“I’m 29 going on 30 and I would love to experience a playoff push, but I’d like for that to happen here. First and foremost, I would like to experience that here and kind of see this through and be the guy who stuck it out in some really tough years and came out on the other side. I think there’s a really good group of guys here and some more coming that can be a special team here for years to come. They’ve just done such a really, really good job of building the organization.

“Every year I was in the minors I remember we were ranked 29th, every single year, and they came here in 2018 and inherited a pretty tough situation, I’d say, and they’ve done a great job in this short amount of time of building the organization up, and I’ve been really impressed with what they’ve done and seen how they’ve implemented a lot of things and developed a talent pipeline. You do see that coming to fruition slowly, and obviously you want to see that at the big league level, and it will happen at some point. And I’d like to be part of it.”

Mancini headed back inside the clubhouse after batting practice and reappeared for the ceremonial first pitch. He knelt behind home plate for Sonsy Gaba, the mother of Orioles superfan and Hall of Famer Mo Gaba, who passed away exactly one year ago after a lifetime battling cancer.

Sonsy gestured with her hand as if trying to dry her tears. Mancini, who became exceptionally close to Mo, caught the underhand toss, brought her the ball and wrapped his arms around her for a second time.

A game would be played. Mancini would belt his 19th home run and extend his hitting streak to 10 in a row. He waved to Sonsy, who blew him a kiss. And his importance to the team and the city again would go unquestioned, even as the inquiries about his trade status returned.

“Like I said earlier, I’m no bigger than the organization,” Mancini said, “and as much as I want to be here, I completely understand either way whatever happens.”

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