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Earlier this month, O’s rookie right fielder Nick Markakis joined the likes of Albert Pujols, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Justin Morneau, and teammate Brian Roberts in some elite company: He became a member of my fantasy baseball team.
Granted, it’s no Rookie of the Year announcement for Markakis. But unlike most scenarios involving males and fantasies, this one actually has some relationship with reality. Whether it’s at the major league level or the fantasy level, Nick Markakis’ solid performance this season hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.
Luckily for Markakis, things are changing. He’s now getting some love on a blog with a lifetime readership roughly equivalent to the attendance at a “Nails on the Chalkboard” promotion night at the local minor league park. Congratulations, Nick. You can pick up your Tripper Johnson bobblehead on the way out of the stadium.
After Thursday’s performance at Yankee Stadium, Nick Markakis is batting .299 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage. Forget Rookie of the Year, this guy deserves Comeback Player of the Year.
Markakis batted .182 in April. By June, he had raised his average to .228. Take that, Mario Mendoza. Or was it Minnie? Whatever the case, that mythical Mendoza guy isn’t even a speck in the rearview mirror after Markakis batted a Williams-esque .403 for the month of July. (Thinking Bernie rather than Ted? I’ve got a heaping plate of history with a side of common sense for you to sample.)
Now, every time we Birds fans pick up the newspaper we’re treated to the latest updated statistic about our sizzling rookie right fielder: “Since (month), (day), Nick Markakis leads the major leagues with a (.xxx) average.” With his recent power surge, perhaps the storyline can change: “Nick Markakis has batted (.xxx) with (xx) home runs since moving to the No. 2 spot in the Orioles lineup.”
I’m no sportswriter, so I’ll leave the extended feting to the guys who do it best, or at least most often. (Check out these articles about Markakis from The Sun and The Post. Don’t worry, neither one uses the word “fete.”)
I’m more concerned with what it’s going to take for Nick Markakis to truly get the credit he deserves. The stats tell an impressive story about his mid-season resurgence, but chances are that fans outside of Charm City still answer “It’s all Greek to me” when asked about baseball’s hottest hitter. So it’s not just about what Nick Markakis does for the rest of the season. It’s also about when he does it.
Fans will know Nick Markakis if he comes up big in the 13 remaining games that the Birds have with the division’s overexposed Northeast rivals. Hit a walk off homer in the Bronx. Snare a game-tying hit before it drops on the Fenway grass. Be an equal opportunity antagonist, a “Yankee Killer” and “Sawks Killer” wrapped into one. If Reggie Jackson showed us anything it’s that baseball fans have selective memories when your timing is good.
Let’s face it, the story of the AL East is once again the Yankees and Red Sox. Try an experiment this afternoon: Crawl under a rock. Stay there until Monday. Chances are you’ll still get sick of hearing about a certain five-game set in Boston. You can’t pay for the type of media exposure that the Sawks and Yanks receive. Okay, you can. And both teams essentially have. But that just means opportunity is knocking down the stretch for Markakis.
Brian Roberts dismisses the notion of the O’s as a spoiler: “The spoiler role doesn’t matter,” Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. “It just feels good to play well, to win. It’s not like we have a preference of who wins the East. I think it’s more about us, trying to play better, trying to finish well. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Teams are spoilers. Markakis has the chance to be an assassin. The “not him again” guy who tortures spoiled fan bases.
The opportunities have been there. Markakis came to the plate in Fenway on Aug. 13 with the bases loaded and one out. The O’s trailed 11-9. Markakis struck out. Baseball, though, is like that ex-girlfriend whose moods would swing and who you surely don’t miss. It’s a fickle game. So consider yesterday’s match-up in the Bronx a rebound for Markakis.
Provided that Nick Markakis is “money, baby” over the next several weeks, it’ll be more Cheers than jeers when it’s all said and done. Everyone will know his name.