Mancini on Orioles' 'culture shift' and future with Baltimore
In a recent sit-down with MLB.com at Yankee Stadium, Orioles first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini talks about the positive vibe on his team and his battle with cancer.
MLB.com: Even though the Orioles have a record under .500 like last year, I’m seeing improvement on this team. Do you agree?
Trey Mancini: The record [is not great], but our trajectory and our momentum are much better. Last year, we got off to a pretty good start and then, at this point last year, we were kind of falling off a little bit. Right now, I think we are almost gaining steam in a way. What I mean is, just the energy around the locker room and the way we play every night is much different than it has been the past few years. The games we are winning, a lot of times, we are coming back. The games we are losing, a lot of the time we are behind, but we storm back. I feel like we are competitive night in, night out. That’s a big difference. Obviously, you want more than that. But whatever you go through in a rebuild and you are in our situation, that’s what you want to see. That’s the real first sign that things are moving in the right direction and that’s been the feel around here.
MLB.com: Of all the things you have seen on this team, what is the biggest improvement that you are most proud of?
Mancini: The pitching. It has been amazing this year, the strides a lot of these guys have made -- guys like Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin, Jorge López. Dillon Tate has been here awhile. Our whole staff -- our starters and the bullpen -- have been throwing strikes. They are working at a great pace. They have been throwing with conviction. They are not scared. They are not timid. It’s been really amazing to see them all grow and become bona fide Major League pitchers. That’s where the huge improvement has been.
MLB.com: You have a reliever, Akin, who was amazing on Tuesday against the Yankees.
Mancini: He has been incredible. He had his fair share of struggles last year, too. … Everybody told me that when he was in the Minor Leagues, he was dominant. This [is] who Keegan is. Last year was the outlier, not this year. I’m getting to see it firsthand. I’m seeing the real Keegan. He is fun to play behind.
MLB.com: I can see the joy in your face. Things are starting to happen for this team. Is this the year the Orioles make significant progress?
Mancini: We are quite a few games below .500. I think this is a year we can maybe look back and say, “This is where the culture shifted.” Our division is so stacked. It’s going to be tough to compete for a whole season -- record wise. At the same time, you never know. This is the year where the culture shifted. We are winning a lot more of these close games and you see an improvement in the win column. I don't know what that looks like at the end of the year. But we are enjoying ourselves every day. I know I’m enjoying myself. We had some tough years here. I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s starting to feel different. I think everybody recognizes that. I’m proud of that fact. I’m happy to be a part of it.
That was my whole M.O. coming into this year. No matter how long I’m here, I want to make sure that I leave this place better than it was. I really have been enjoying myself and watching the guys compete. … I’m really proud of a lot of them.
MLB.com: When did you notice the culture changed?
Mancini: I think it’s a lot of the guys having more experience, feeling like they belong. Guys like Rougned Odor, Robinson Chirinos coming in. Jordan Lyles has been great with the pitchers. Some of these guys have come in and they have been incredible. They helped us jell as a team. That’s huge. … It’s not something you can measure statistically or anything like that. They have been a massive part of it.
MLB.com: You admitted that things were bad the last few years. How did that affect you?
Mancini: I would say 2019 was the first year of the new regime, when [GM Mike] Elias became the new GM and [Brandon] Hyde was our new manager. There was a lot of newness and that was exciting. There weren’t high expectations for our team, but I felt that team competed very well for what we were. We were overmatched basically every night, but we fought. That’s what this 2022 team is doing, but the talent is better than it was in ‘19. Last year was really hard for a lot of us, for me especially.
I missed all of 2020 with [colon] cancer. I hadn’t really accepted what had happened to me that well. I feel like a lot of times last year, I was here, but not here. I was a headcase sometimes and it was a whirlwind year for me. That’s to be expected after you go through what I went through. You just kind of get propelled into playing all of a sudden. I was able to deal with all of that this offseason. So I totally, I think, transformed and [am] having a much better presence about me this year, too. That has also been a big help.
MLB.com: How much did you say, “Cancer, you are not going to get the best of me. I’m going to win?”
Mancini: That was my attitude the whole time. But I think, last year, I tried to act sometimes that it never happened. There is a lot of anger and bitterness of what happened to me. I used baseball as an outlet to show that it didn’t affect me, even though it did. Of course, it affects you. It affects your mindset. I don’t think I handled it the best way. I get why I wanted to come back with that attitude. But at the same time, I needed to realize that I maybe should have given myself a little bit more of a break. I physically have been through a lot, probably wasn’t exactly who I was in 2019. I didn’t a have a lot of time to get ready for the season. I was a little harder on myself than I should have been.
MLB.com: How much did your wife, Sara, help you get through the tough times?
Mancini: She is everything. While I was going through chemo, she didn’t let me feel sorry for myself. She didn’t let me wallow too much. Once it was over and I was working out, she was so supportive. She never doubted I was going to be OK. I doubted it a lot. There were a lot of days I thought I was going to die. It was a scary diagnosis. It was at a pretty advanced stage. It was an aggressive form. So it was really scary. It still is, sometimes. I learned to deal with it much better. Yes, Sara got me through it.
MLB.com: How are you feeling now?
Mancini: I feel really good. I’m over two years from the diagnosis. I’m just trying to move forward. You still have reminders of what you went through. You still have to do checkups and things like that. But at the same time, I’m in a much better headspace than what I was a year ago. I’m really looking forward to all that life has in store for me. It took me a while for me to get there, but I definitely do have that new lease on life.
MLB.com: What is the biggest thing you learned about cancer?
Mancini: There are going to be a lot of really bad days and there are going to be good days. You just want the good days to outweigh the bad days. Think about what you have going for you in a positive manner. You can’t feel sorry for yourself too much. You can feel sorry for yourself sometimes because it sucks. But you have to let the good outweigh the bad.
MLB.com: I read the report that that you were complaining about the dimensions at Oriole Park. But it hasn’t affected your batting average.
Mancini: It’s not like I’m up at the plate thinking about it. If I’m asked what I think of it as a right-handed hitter, I don’t love it. But at the same time, I can’t do anything about it. I still have to go up there and hit. Even if I don’t love the new dimensions, me not liking it is not going to change anything. It would only hurt me if I let it. I have to keep playing. That’s all you can do.
MLB.com: It hasn’t changed your swing, which I think is a good thing.
Mancini: I try to be consistent and not change who you are because the wall was moved back. It’s something I don’t let it affect me.
MLB.com: What do you think your future is in Baltimore?
Mancini: I don’t know. Things are great, but at the same time, we have a mutual option after this year. Quite frankly, that’s rarely exercised by one of the sides. So that would leave me as a free agent. I really don’t know. I know we have a lot of young guys in the organization coming up. They have a bright future ahead of them whether I’m here or not. I’m just trying to enjoy every day. If I do that, whatever happens, happens. I finally got to the point where I don't worry two days from now or a week from now or a month from now. I just focus on today. If you do that, you look up at the end of the year, you can be proud of yourself. That’s all you can do.
MLB.com: What does Baltimore mean to you?
Mancini: Everything. The fans have been so supportive throughout my entire career. I’m so thankful for them and the organization for drafting me. The team gave me an opportunity from every Minor League stop to Baltimore. The fans have been incredible the whole time. That connection is something that will not go away no matter how long I play here or if I play somewhere else. A piece of me will always be in Baltimore. I really love the fans so much.