BALTIMORE – The Twins didn’t play baseball on Friday, but Jonathan Schoop had a busy day anyway. “I’ve been hugging people since we got here,” Schoop said with a laugh. “It’s been a big day for hugs.”
Such is the reception that ballplayers receive when they return to their former homes after changing teams. Ballparks are full of behind-the-scenes employees who interact with the players on a daily basis, and those are relationships that immediately reconnect when the schedule brings players back.
Schoop is living that baseball reunion this weekend in Baltimore, where he manned second base for nearly five seasons. Marwin Gonzalez will enjoy his own homecoming on Monday, when the longtime Astros player walks into Minute Maid Park for the first time as a visitor.
“It’s kind of exciting. I’m looking forward to it,” said Gonzalez, who signed with the Twins as a free agent in March after seven seasons with Houston. “I can’t wait to see all the fans who supported me for so many years.”
Ah yes, the fans. As much as these annual drop-bys are a chance to rekindle friendships and reminisce with former teammates, even the most stoic players admit that they’re curious about how they will be received.
“It’s kind of in people’s blood that if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” said Jake Odorizzi, whose own first-trip-back came with an asterisk last April, since he never pitched when the Twins were in Tampa Bay. “But the fans who pay attention, you like to think they appreciate your time with the team. I’m sure Jonathan is going to get a nice ovation” when he steps into the batter’s box.
Schoop hopes so, though he candidly admits he has given that ovation some thought. There’s no pressure, exactly — it’s more like anticipation, he said.
“It’s a little bit of nerves, to be honest. But it’s good nerves,” said Schoop, who hit 106 homers for the Orioles and made an All-Star team. “When I go up there [Saturday], it will be on my mind. I’m interested to see. It’s like, ‘Remember me?’ ”
There’s little doubt that Orioles fans remember Schoop, who hit a mammoth home run over Camden Yards’ center field fence during his first major league game. Schoop said he loved Baltimore, and didn’t want to leave. But with the team in last place and Schoop slumping through his worst season, he was traded to Milwaukee at the deadline last July 31.
“The fans know it wasn’t my choice” to leave, Schoop said. “The fans at Camden Yards are the best. They were so good to me over the years, so this place will always be special. It’s a little weird being over [on the visitors’ side] today. But it’s weird in a good way.”
Same for Gonzalez, who is so thoroughly a Houstonian now, he plans to live there during the offseason for the rest of his career. “That will be nice — I want to sleep in my bed those three days” next week, he said. Gonzalez’s wife and two children flew from Minneapolis to Houston ahead of the team, “and my daughter is probably even more excited than me to be home,” he said.
Considering Gonzalez’s place in Astros history — his ninth-inning, game-tying home run off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2 rescued the Astros from a potential 2-0 deficit in the 2017 World Series and ranks as one of the franchise’s most important home runs — the Twins utility man figures to be warmly greeted by fans next week.
“Any team that won a World Series, if you had a hand in it, you will always have that ultimate respect in that city, from the fans and everybody,” Odorizzi said. “It’s special, and I’m sure Marwin will feel that.”
“I hope so. That would be really nice,” Gonzalez said. “It will be some good memories — and then trying to beat them. When I’m out of baseball, that will be my home, but for now, I want to win the series.”
And perhaps punctuate the moment with another memorable one. Rocco Baldelli, for instance, returned to Tampa Bay with the Red Sox in 2009, after spending five seasons, including the World Series year of 2008, with the Rays. He went 0-for-3 in his first game back but then homered off David Price in his second one.
The ovation, Baldelli said, “was nice. Honestly, any time you play somewhere and spend a long part of your life in a certain spot, you build relationships and you enjoy the fans, and the fans enjoy you. Whenever you come back, it is special. … I hope [Schoop] gets the welcome back he deserves, because he gave this city and the fans here a lot.”