One recent afternoon, Machado, the Baltimore Orioles’ third base sensation, hit his target roughly nine out of every 10 times, kicking angrily at the dirt in front of him near third base any time he missed.
“If he has a bad day and I wind up having to stoop over four or five times to pick it up, he actually comes up and apologizes,” said the man with the fungo bat, Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson.
These are the things the Orioles love about Machado, the 20-year-old phenom who rescued their 2012 season following his heavily hyped August call-up, and who is looking to do even more — and lift the Orioles even higher — in 2013.
Sure, the Orioles love all the obvious, flashy things about Machado, too — the Brooksian diving stops at third base, the game-winning home runs, the major league-leading 22 doubles through Sunday. But with no less fervor, the Orioles also love Machado’s subtle charms: His attention to detail, his veteran’s demeanor, his aversion to making headlines, his bunting acumen, his preternatural baseball aptitude.
Marveled Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations,: “This guy was born to play baseball.”
Shining through subtlety
That exhilarating feeling that slowly arose and overtook Baltimore last summer — that the Orioles were back as a proud franchise, with real hope and a real future — has a face now: a baby face, with big ears, a close-cropped haircut and a love-this-game smile. It belongs to Machado, the Miami native who, just three years out of high school, is batting second and playing third for a team (currently third in the American League East) with real playoff aspirations.
Remember that ubiquitous debate of winter — which young player would you rather have, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout? These days, smart folks debate it three ways: Harper, Trout or Machado? Indeed, through the first 100 games of their careers (a milestone Machado passed this weekend), Machado has a higher batting average and on-base-plus-slugging percentage than Harper and more RBI than either Harper or Trout.
Still, it is somehow fitting that despite all Machado’s spectacular defense and gaudy stats — including a 2.9 WAR (or wins above replacement, a catch-all sabermetric stat that measures a player’s overall value to his team) that led all AL position players through Saturday’s games — his signature play to this point as an Oriole was something much more subtle.