One of the ways I get through season after season of miserable baseball is through compartmentalization. Looking at the team in its entirety paints a bleak picture of young players who don't develop the way we imagined, veterans who don't produce, a front office that makes questionable decisions, and what appears will be more of the same in the future as the Orioles continue to flounder in a division stacked with money, talent, and competence. So to stay sane, I have to make an effort to take things individually. Enjoy the wins (a bit tougher this year, given how few there actually are), forget the losses, and focus on the few things that are going well at any given moment. It's not the best or most desirable way to follow a sports team, but the Orioles have gone 884-1150 since my 19th birthday. At this point it's a viable coping mechanism.
Which brings me to Nick Markakis. You all know what I mean. It's not just his numbers, although they're good. In the years of poor drafting and a barren farm system, when prospects who are supposed to be the next big thing routinely disappoint and when the players on the big league team are horrible, personally embarrassing, or both, somehow things have gone right with Nick Markakis. Don't think about it big picture. Don't think about how it's a shame that in all these years, so far he's the only case of things going the way they are supposed to. Just think about Nick.
He was drafted in the first round, played his way onto the team after less than 300 minor league games, and through four and a half seasons with the Orioles has done nothing but produce. He doesn't say much, but when he does it is always the right thing. When he signed a six year contract, he spoke optimistically about the team's future. When he found himself to be the only consistently good player on what might be the worst team in Orioles history, he spoke out and said what we all needed to hear.
He's not the greatest outfielder in baseball. He's not particularly close. But he could play on any contending team and he never stops busting his tail. On a team that has won 29 games in four months, Markakis has never slowed down. In a game where they are losing by ten runs, he hustles his way to another double. The losing gets to him, but it never shows in his performance.
It's easy to feel bad for Markakis. He doesn't deserve this team any more than we do. It has to be hard for him to show up every day knowing what is in store. It would be hard to blame him if he did begin to coast, given his environment. But on a team that is known for its second half swoons, Nick has put up better numbers in the second half every single year of his major league career.
Selfishly, I'm happy that I get to watch him every day. I'm happy that he lives in Maryland with his family year round and I'm happy that, because of him, there is always at least one player on the team that doesn't disgust me. But it saddens me to think that he might be the new Brian Roberts: a likeable, talented player who wastes his years playing for a team that won't even see .500, let alone the playoffs.
If Nick continues on a steady pace for the rest of the season, he will finish 2010 hitting .305/.389/.450 with 55 doubles, 11 home runs, 88 walks, and 188 hits. But hey, it's the second half now, and Markakis has slugged over .500 in the second half in his career (career first half SLG is .440), so who knows where he'll end up. And since most of the other players on the team are just going to disappoint you, you might as well keep your eye on Nick.