Matt Wieters had a chance to play hero for the Washington Nationals in his first game in Oriole Park at Camden Yards as a member of the opposition.
Wieters, 30, spent his first eight major league seasons in Baltimore with the Orioles after the O’s drafted him with the fifth pick in the first round of the 2007 Draft.
He left via free agency and late this Spring, however, and signed a 1-year/$10.5M deal with the Nats.
Wieters talked with reporters before last night’s game about all the memories he had of OPACY and the emotion of returning to his former home.
“Lots of them,” he said of the memories.
“Maybe the first time getting up here is one that will always stick in my mind, 2012, being able to get to the playoffs after grinding for so long, and more than that, the amount of relationships I’ve made over there.”
Wieters ran down a list of teammates, coaches, and staff that he said will remain close friends in spite of his relocation to the nation’s capital, and joked about when he finally realized he’d be leaving the Orioles.
“Once I signed with Washington it was going to be a long shot,” he said.
“It was something where until really late in the offseason I didn’t really have any idea where I was going, so the door is always open everywhere until you do sign.”
He knew he was going to be emotional last night, but said it would be one of many emotional moments in his nine major league seasons.
“It’ll be a little bit amped up,” Wieters acknowledged.
“I was saying this the other day, every time I do something for the first time you get a little bit of those butterflies, but I think the good thing is that the further you get in your career you learn to handle them a little bit better.
“The first game you obviously have them, coming back — when I came back from surgery I had them and it will be the same thing here, because I will never have experienced playing here from this side of the field.”
When he first took the field, warming up Nationals’ starter Gio Gonzalez in the bottom of the first, the Orioles played a moving tribute video scored to “Welcome Back Kotter” and John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back, and he received a standing ovation before his first at bat...
“Yeah. It’s a tug,” Orioles’ skipper Buck Showalter said after the game, referring to the heartstrings.
“Very classy thing the organization did there with the welcome back. That was — had to swallow hard, think we all did.”
Wieters appreciated the response too, after telling reporters before the game he did not know what to expect.
“It was great,” Wieters said, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes. “It was a good crowd, as always, here. I was very appreciative.”
Wieters grounded out the first time up, K’d looking in his second at bat, sent a fly to center in his third plate appearance, and drove in a run with a double in the ninth.
He stepped in as the potential tying run in his final trip to the plate and lined a double to center field that should have scored two runs, but a gaffe by Adam Lind resulted in only one run coming across, and another TOOTBLAN in the next at bat led to the end of the game, which the Orioles won, 6-4.
“We won and Matt had a good night,” Showalter said, wrapping up the night.