Three-and-a-half hours before games begin, you can see part of what makes the Orioles cohere. It’s a friendly nest. Four tall Birds play high-level doubles Ping-Pong in the middle of the clubhouse, everyone giving the battle room for smashes and retrievals. Occasionally, paddle king J.J. Hardy, all-star starter at shortstop and the son of a tennis coach, deigns to let a rival challenge him for supremacy. A few yards away, a slate-bed pool table is in constant use. So, 24 percent of the team is in a revolving imitation of a frat house before they hit the field.
This is not how the Yankees’ main locker room feels.
All-star center fielder Adam Jones sits and evaluates an interview by all-star first base starter Chris Davis on his plans for the Home Run Derby. “As a child, I always watched,” Crush said. “Swing hard and hit it far.”
“Now that Chris Davis the superstar is done,” Jones told reporters, “you can come [talk] to the peasant.” All in an afternoon’s agitation.
“Either they are different or I’m different,” said Showalter, acknowledging he was never as comfortable managing the Yanks, Diamondbacks or Rangers as he is with these Orioles. “Even if I weren’t their manager, I’d love to be around this group. There isn’t a day that I don’t have at least one deep belly laugh.”
Manny Machado, the team’s 21-year-old symbol of promise, noticed recently that Showalter’s phone had no apps.
“What’s an app?” Showalter said, playing dumb.
“Like Pandora,” Machado said.
“I know what Pandora’s box is,” Showalter said.
The battle was joined. Now, when Machado passes Showalter, he says, incredulously, “You don’t have any apps.”
“I don’t know? Where are they?” Showalter says.
That’s the smiling surface of the Orioles, but Showalter is still, as he always was, “the purveyor of reality” in the clubhouse. All that hard-nose didn’t disappear. Showalter and closer Jim Johnson had a heart-to-heart after Johnson’s sixth blown save in which the value of “presence and presentation” was discussed in vivid terms. You may never again see Johnson dawdle or shake off Wieters.
The Orioles really are in the middle of a process, one that probably can’t reach its next level until someone — maybe raw Kevin Gausman, now back in the minors, or Dylan Bundy, out with elbow surgery — becomes a true ace. So their persistence has to be as constant as their rotation’s limitations.
“We’ve been struggling with the bats lately,” Machado said. “We’ve got to keep grinding, just keep playing baseball. It’s 162 games, not just 10 when we’re [slumping]. Keep it fun.”
At Camden Yards, that’s what Oriole baseball finally is — once again.
For more from Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.