Every step of Trey Mancini on Thursday to his locker at the Houston Astros in Camden Yards felt familiar, but so different.

You get off the plane at BWI Marshall Airport and then take Interstate 295 to Baltimore? It was “a ride that I did probably 1,000 times for many different reasons,” Mancini said hours before meeting his former team at Camden Yards for the first time. He arrived at the Orioles pitch via the Astros team bus, instead of driving alone and parked in the players’ parking lot. Inside the tunnel on the lower level of the stadium, he walked further than ever towards third base, making his way to the visitors club instead of the one where he had spent part of six seasons with an assigned locker.

“It’s so familiar,” said Mancini, “but you have to remember that you are here now as a guest.”

He was greeted as if he were still at home. As Mancini warmed up for the game, the Orioles played a minute-long tribute video on the Camden Yards scoreboard that ended with the words “Thank you, Trey.” Another cheer came as he entered the fight in the second round, taking off his helmet to appreciate fans who meant as much to him as they did to him.

There he met his fiancée, Sarah Perlman. It was there that he battled stage 3 colon c*ncer which stopped him ahead of the 2020 season. It was there that he was welcomed and glorified in the 2021 campaign where he was the sport’s best history.

“My connection to the city is beyond baseball,” Mancini said, “and it will always be.”

The Wilga traded Mancinithen their longest playing player, to Astros for two prospects. majors three years later. He said his feelings about returning to Camden Yards were more excited than nervous.

This four-match streak means little to Astros, who closed the US West League to guarantee Mancini a career runner-up after the season. Baltimore, however, came in 4 and a half wild card games on Thursday with 14 games left. They were a .500 club when they swapped Mancini, three games away from the play-offs thanks to a 27-16 stretch after a slow start and have since gone 26-20, entering Thursday, losing 10 of their last 16 games.

“I was excited to see him joining such a good team and a truly winning organization,” said outfielder Austin Hays. “But at the same time, selfishly, I wanted him to continue to be my teammate and be part of this organization, so it was tough, but it’s all part of it.”

Hays and his teammates, however, said that they did not allow themselves to think whether this season could turn out differently if the team stayed closer to Mancini and Jorge López’s All-Star instead of trading them for forward-looking moves without introducing any significant additions to lineup. Following the deal with Mancini, Executive Vice President and CEO Mike Elias cited playoff probabilities in trade rationalization, although he has since withdrew these comments. However, the players responded while remaining in the race.

“The thing about baseball is that there are a lot of things that are involved, and in some respects there is a lot of perspective,” said outfielder Cedric Mullins. “It’s just a matter of getting out and doing your part at the end of the day.”

Mancini admitted trying to “be a little more consistent in the table” with Houston by hitting .193 / .281 / 407 from trade. But his bat, which nearly made him an All-Star in 2019, would deepen the roster of the Orioles he has been struggling recently.

“You never know,” said goalkeeper Ramón Urías. “What if we had Trey? We can be better. I do not know. We’re a different team now, but I think Trey did a good job for us.

The day the Mancini was traded, “many hugs and tears,” recalls Hays. Backup Anthony Santander hugged the signed jersey Mancini had given him as a tribute to his longtime teammates. Santander said Thursday it plans to frame the T-shirt and hang it at his home in Miami.

He laughed at how frustrated Mancini would be when he played, reminding him to relax by saying, “You’re the best brawler here.” Thanks to the exchange, this is no longer the case, but the bond remains.

“Ultimately, it’s out of our control,” Santander said through the band’s translator Brandon Quinones. “We can’t really control it and now we feel like we have a really good chance to continue to compete, play hard and do a good job, so that’s all we can do now.”

Although Mancini had to adjust to find him Thursday, he feels welcome at the Astros Club. He was thrilled to join the team with World Series aspirations, but believes he has left behind an organization that is striving to the same level.

“These guys have such a great, well-established culture here,” said Mancini. “From the moment I was sold I felt so welcome and part of the team and this is just a testament to everything they have built and what they have done here. And that’s definitely what Baltimore is well on its way to there, building a culture whereby when guys get swapped they are called in there to make them feel instantly welcome and part of the team, and that’s contagious.

“I’m really proud of what they’ve done.”

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