Sports

Trey Mancini’s unforgettable Orioles time is over too soon

By Jake Mintz
MLB Sports Writer FOX

On September 17, 2016, Trey Mancini was sweating in the Florida sun.

Orioles Prospect No. The yet-to-debut 6 have finished their minor league season and are staying fresh at the team’s Spring Training complex just in case the O need reinforcements as they battle for a Wild Card spot. In Mancini’s mind, most of it is eyewash. He will earn a big league call-up at some point in 2017.

But then Steve Pearce, the Orioles right-hand bench hitter, picked up an elbow injury and landed in IL on 60 days, opening the door for Mancini. Days later, the 24-year-old made his big league debut at Camden Yards against the Red Sox, launching a homer in the fifth inning for his first career hit.

Mancini made an absolute hit for the O’s, hitting three homers and doubling in just 15 plate appearances. But in the decisive AL Wild Card loss to the Blue Jays, Mancini never saw the field.

“I didn’t think at the time, I really realized what it all meant.” Mancini told FOX Sports in May. “That was cool to me, yes, but looking back I was really lucky to have experienced it. A lot of guys go through their entire careers without having a playoff game.”

That would be the closest he’s ever gotten to the postseason ball field as an Oriole.

On Monday afternoon, five years and ten months after he first wore the cartoon bird, Mancini was handed over to the Houston Astros as part of a three-way trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

In his more than five seasons with the club, Mancini became a fan favorite, sometimes being the only live force to watch on the unzipped Orioles team. The player’s adage “hold your hand through the dark”, someone who never grumbles, never frowns and who radiates kindness and compassion wherever he goes.

His well-documented struggle with colon cancer in 2020 further deepened his relationship with the city and his fan base, as Trey received treatment at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. As his story made national news, Mancini began to spread awareness to others with his illness, even while undergoing chemotherapy alone in Baltimore during the 2020 season. Mancini returned on Opening Day 2021 to a standing ovation.

“I love this city, I love these fans.” Mancini shared. “It’s been a strange journey, through this whole rebuilding, but I’ve always loved my time here. It’s a very special place no matter what.”

What happened was a trade, a trade that months ago felt like a foregone conclusion. Mancini is an upcoming free agent, the Orioles club destined to finish fifth place. His departure seemed inevitable. But then the funniest thing happened: Baltimore started to win.

In July, the club picked up 10 straight wins, catapulting themselves into the hunt for third place AL Wild Card. Even after Mancini got a curtain call in his final home game before the trading deadline, after one of the most unique and unforgettable homers in franchise history, it still feels like the team is too close to the fight for GM Mike Elias to actually pull the trigger. . The vibe is too good and Mancini too basic for that vibe.

Baltimore’s surprise rise from the AL East punchline to the pesky playoff contenders leaves them at 51-51, just three games from the third place Wild Card to play on Monday night. They have evolved into a tight-knit unit that helps revive dormant franchises. The presence at Camden Yards was exhausted, the energy too. That Orioles magic, that feeling, felt like it had finally returned.

But dealing with Mancini is a tremendous change. This is a miscalculation: the wrong value prioritizes over the value. The 2022 Orioles have been a great party, and by trading Mancini, Mike Elias suddenly becomes the one to stumble and damage the speakers, causing the music to be cut off.

“It’s going to be tough without him,” Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle told MLB.com’s Zachary Silver. “And I know a lot of us are very upset.”

Since becoming the team’s head of baseball operations ahead of the 2019 season, GM O’s Mike Elias has been very efficient, willing to let go of veterans when given the opportunity to build on the future. It’s a cold-hearted approach to team building that is finally starting to pay off in the winning column.

Objectively, it’s a solid catch — Seth Johnson is the No. 6 Tampa per FanGraphs, Chayce McDermott is No. 10 in Houston — for two months from 0.751 OPS first baseman to free agency, but it’s a trade with consequences far beyond the spreadsheet.

Every city, every fan base has established a relationship with the players. Sometimes the link feels a bit forced. They can feel like a product of chance, somewhat mandatory or transactional. But for whatever reason, Trey’s relationship with Baltimore always felt natural and authentic.

When asked back in May what he remembers most from his time in Baltimore, Mancini focused on the 2019 All-Star break. He had a fairly brutal first half of the season and struggled to find his footing as the face of the rebuilding Orioles.

But instead of flying back to Florida to rest, Mancini stayed behind in Baltimore to spend time with a young O fan named Mo Gaba who had been diagnosed with some form of severe cancer.

“We’ve met once before,” recalled Mancini. “But I wanted to hang out with him without cameras, so I took him and his mom to Dave & Busters. We had a lot of fun. That moment gave me a lot of perspective and helped change my mental state and season.”

The two developed a very close bond before Gaba tragically passed away on July 28, 2020, especially after Mancini received his own diagnosis in March of that year. Trey would regularly stop by the Gaba household just to spend time with Mo in between chemo treatments.

The team is now hosting its annual Mo Gaba Day at Camden Yards on July 28, the day Mancini has hosted each of the last two seasons, including the incredible sun-assisted inside-the-parker last week. That Mo Gaba day will live on indefinitely, is only a small, but important part of the Baltimore Mancini legacy.

*** ****

Professional sports in modern times are almost entirely about winning and losing. Who won? Who lost? Who trades for whom to win more and lose less? etc, etc, etc.

But sometimes it’s more than that. Fans like to win because basically, they’re looking for something or someone to hold onto; anything they can relate to emotionally to distract them from the lethargy of their daily life.

In Baltimore, Trey Mancini didn’t do many wins—only about 37% or so of his games—but he did succeed in a far more important task: linking. Teams rise and fall, seasons come and go, but players and their actions stand the test of time. That reality may be what Mike Elias is missing. It’s not always about winning and losing, whether in 2022 or 2026 or 2032, sometimes it’s about having a reason not to care, it’s about being able to care.

Baltimore cares about Trey Mancini as Trey Mancini cares about Baltimore.

“This city …” said Mancini, “This city saved my life.”

Jake Mintz is the tougher part of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is an Orioles fan living in New York City, and as such, he lives a lonely life almost every October. If he doesn’t watch baseball, he almost certainly rides his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


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Trey Mancini’s unforgettable Orioles time is over too soon

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