WASHINGTON — It hasn’t been long since Matt Wieters last played at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, but he returned on Monday evening under far different circumstances.
In the time since he last took the field, his team lost a one-game Wild Card playoff, negotiations with the only MLB team he has ever played for fizzled, he entered free agency as a coveted piece, and ended up signing late in the offseason with the closest geographic rivals.
He has done well for himself in his short time in D.C., slashing a line of .274/.365/.476 at the plate, arguably his best start to a season since his injury-shortened 2014 campaign. On top of that, he has embraced his new pitching staff and appears to have found his place in the Nats clubhouse.
But playing at OPACY still holds special significance for him:
“Different vantage point, for sure, but hey, it was a good feeling coming in today, getting to walk into the Yard like I did for so many years,” he told the media before the game. “It definitely brought a smile to my face and [I’m] excited to be able to play here again.
“Every time you do something new for the first time, you get a little bit of those butterflies. I think the good thing is, the further you get in your career, the more you learn how to handle them a little bit better. First game, I had them; coming back from surgery, I had them; and it will be the same thing here because I will have never experienced playing here from this side of the field.”
Wieters was asked what he thought his reception might be from the Baltimore crowd, which is likely to feature the hardcore fans on a chilly weeknight in Baltimore. While he declined to guess, the optimism was apparent.
“I don’t want to really anticipate any reception,” he said with an uncomfortable shrug. “I enjoyed my time here and warm reception or not, it won’t change my feelings about the city and about the fans. I just hope that I remember to walk into this dugout and not the other one.”
Wieters didn’t have to wait long, coming up in the third inning to face a red-hot Kevin Gausman, who had retired each of the first seven batters before facing Wieters. As he walked up to the plate, Baltimore let him know what they thought of his contributions as a former top prospect, All-Star and everyday catcher:
Baltimore gave Wieters a prolonged standing ovation that only increased when Wieters acknowledged their applause:
In case anyone was wondering, the feeling is mutual, especially for how Wieters feels about his old teammates.
“I’ll still follow those guys and there’s no love lost just because I’m not playing there this year,” he said with a slight crack in his voice. “I still love all those guys in the clubhouse and I hope they do well. I just hope we do a little bit better this week.
“When teams are playing like both of ours are right now, you get a little bit of that playoff feel. It’s going to be a grind to see who can win this series.”
For the record, the Orioles put the shift on Wieters and he hit the ball sharply to the right-field side of second base. J.J. Hardy made a diving stop on the play, throwing Wieters out by a step at first base. The Baltimore faithful cheered Wieters’ first out back in Baltimore as well.