Baltimore Orioles’ J.J. Hardy finds new life in Charm Cityby Christopher C. Wuensch on Sep. 28, 2011, under Sports
J.J. Hardy was jogging to his spot along the first baseline for player introductions when a revelation struck him with the subtlety of a fastball to the ribs.
His childhood dream had come true. He was a Big League ballplayer.
That was opening day of the 2005 season and the Tucson native was the starting shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Before long, Hardy bullet-pointed the term “all-star” onto his hardball resume.
Quicker than it takes a pitcher to pick a runner off of first base, the Sabino High School alum’s career began to founder. As Hardy soon found out, baseball can be as fickle as it is rewarding.
But if there’s one thing the storied game is notorious for, it’s its second, and sometimes third and fourth, chances.
For Hardy, his quest back into baseball’s good graces took part in a city appropriately dubbed ‘Charm City’ as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
“2009 was a rough season and I kind of got a new start in Minnesota,” Hardy said before the start of the 2011 season.
After five seasons with the Brewers, Hardy landed a gig as the Twins’ starting shortstop to begin the 2010 season.
But injuries limited him to 101 games — his lowest total since playing only 35 games in an injury-plagued 2006.
Minnesota promptly shipped him off to Baltimore in the off-season — his third team in as many seasons.
“I’ve got a new start here in Baltimore,” Hardy said at the Orioles’ spring training complex in Sarasota,Fla.
“Things are going really well.”
Hardy uttered those words before the season and before a strained oblique shelved him until early May.
Despite missing 34 games, Hardy enjoyed the best season of his seven-year career, hitting a personal-best 30 home runs and knocking in 80 runs.
His 30 home runs made him and teammate Mark Reynolds (37 homers) the first pair of Orioles to hit 30-or-more long balls in a season since 1996 when Brady Anderson (50) and Rafael Palmeiro (39) led the Birds.
His 30th home run, in fact, could be the biggest long ball of the season for the Orioles. It gave Baltimore two of the four runs they needed to upset the Red Sox in the season finale and knock Boston from postseason contention.
“We won’t have to stay up at night wondering if he gets it,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter during spring training. “He gets the professional part of it. He’s obviously very athletic. At a very young age, he’s grasped the winning and team part of it.”
Showalter and Baltimore liked what they saw in Hardy so much, that they inked the 29 year old to a three-year extension in July that will pay him $22.25 million through 2014.
The Orioles, unfortunately, ended the year with their 14th consecutive losing season.
Hardy, however, is still optimistic about Baltimore’s future.
“Three teams in seven years but I feel like this is nice, it’s a good fit,” he said.
Good fit and quite possible a revelation.
“Growing up I always dreamed of being a ballplayer.”