There is something cool about Nick Markakis. He has that sweet swing. The way he takes a fastball the opposite way is a thing of beauty. Sure, when he's in an all out sprint he looks like a duck. So does Machado. What of it? Just who is Mr. Markakis?
The Markakis family were set up in Long Island when Nick was a baby. They were avid Red Sox fans. UGH! and Nick's favorite player was Roger Clemens. Double UGH! But when Markakis was about ten years old they moved to Georgia.
There he met Taylor Randahl. They became best friends and inseparable until one day in 2000 when Randahl passed away in a accident where he was bicycling on the road. A car coming the opposite way hit a deer and, from what I understand, the deer hit Randahl, killing him. Nick pitched in the game for his high school the afternoon after Randahl's wake and didn't give up a single run.
There have been happier days off the field for Markakis. Following the 2008 season he married Christina Dutko. She was a cross country and track star at Florida Atlantic University. The two were introduced by Jeff Fiorentino at a party in 2006. Dutko also knew Brian Roberts' wife in high school.
Since getting married the couple have had two children; Taylor and Tucker. Taylor is named for Nick's childhood friend.
Markakis was a standout with the bat and on the mound. In fact, many teams thought of him as a better pitching prospect than an outfielder, and it's hard to disagree if the scouting reports are true.
He was a lefty, obviously, who apparently brought a fastball around 96 miles per hour. In junior college, Markakis was stellar from the slab; 12-0 with a 1.68 earned run average. So good that the Cincinnati Reds drafted him; twice. Once in the 35th round during the 2001 season and then again in the 23rd round in 2002. Both times they wanted him as a pitcher but he rejected them each year in favor of returning to Young Harris College.
It was reported that Nick preferred to hit full-time. In two years at Young Harris, he hit .439 with 21 home runs, an .843 slugging percentage and a .541 on base percentage.
In 2003, the O's took him seventh overall as an outfielder and he finally entered professional baseball. He was sent to Aberdeen and went on to tear up minor league pitching. He spent parts of three seasons down on the farm and made it to the bigs by the age of 22.
The Summer Olympics were in Athens, Greece in 2004. Markakis, half-German and half-Greek, was a member of the Greek national team for the games that summer. It helped that Orioles owner, Peter Angelos, of Greek ancestry himself, was able to aid in financing the team.
While climbing the ranks Baseball America ranked Markakis as the O's top prospect following the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He top out as the number 21 prospect in all of baseball after 2005.
Markakis, once thought to be a big power threat, has been a steady force in the Baltimore lineup since his 2006 rookie campaign. He has yet to win an All-Star nod that he probably deserved over the likes of Ty Wiggington or George Sherrill, but he has captured a Gold Glove and is perennially among the league leaders in outfield assists.
That Gold Glove is the only trophy that Markakis has earned in his eight plus major league seasons. However, his ultimate zone rating per 150 innings played is -1.5. In fact, he has posted a negative UZR/150 in his last five seasons. He probably deserved a Gold Glove in 2008 when his UZR/150 was an impressive 11.0. But he actually won the award in 2011 when it was a poor -5.2.
Once thought to be a prodigious power threat, Markakis' aptitude for the long ball has taken a hit recently. He has gone from slugging a career high .491 in 2008 with 48 doubles and 20 home runs to just .356 last season with 24 doubles and 10 home runs. Quite literally, his numbers were cut in half.
The tool he is most lauded for nowadays is his eye at the plate. But in 2013 he walked just under eight percent of the time. That's just about league average.
On the other hand, he struck out only 10.9 percent of the time, meaning he is putting a heck off a lot of balls in play. His average, could he hit with just a bit more power, should be much higher than the .271 we saw last season. In his glory days from 2007 to 2010 he was both striking out and walking more.
Markakis is not a power guy and he never truly was one. He was the best player on some bad teams. Now, he is being miscast as a leadoff hitter. He isn't one, but he is the best Baltimore has. He can still be a key cog in the Orioles' machine.
My interaction with Markakis
So, I kind of have a soft spot for Nick. He was the glimmer of hope on a team of despair for many of my formative years. I'm 21. The Orioles have been awful for nearly my entire life. And then, we drafted Markakis. We continued to be awful, but Nick was fun to watch.
He stormed through the minors, skipping Triple A completely. And he burst onto the scene in Baltimore, never looking back. He was the next great Oriole. His number 21 would be up in left field along with Earl, Cal and Brooks. He was Baltimore's Greek god.
Not to mention, he lives about ten minutes away from my high school and would stop by from time to time. Some of my high school baseball teammates and myself got the chance to meet him. One of our coaches had a connection.
We went to his house and helped to arrange his workout equipment when his back was sore one off-season, and believe me when I tell you that the Nick on TV is the Nick in real life. Some see him as lackadaisical in the way he gathers balls in right field. Standoffish in the way he interacts with the media and his teammates. I see him as "average Joe".
When we arrived he looked like anyone else would on a Saturday afternoon, in full lounge mode with a raggedy t-shirt and sweats. He didn't say much, with a big lip of Skoal in his mouth and a spittoon in his left hand. Just pointed and gave generic directions.
He wasn't mean, but there was nothing especially charming about him either. He was the guy you see on TV; quiet and reserved. There is some beauty in that image. Markakis never told us he was the next face of the franchise. We just assumed it.
He has his deficiencies and this may be his last season in an Orioles uniform. As much as we all rip on him, and he deserves it at times, I would sure like to see him actually participing in a playoff game for the Birds rather than sitting on the bench with a cast around his hand.
Have you ever met Markakis or another Oriole? Let's talk about it in the comments down below.