For the past seven years, J.J. Hardy has played shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, succeeding the legendary Cal Ripkin, and doing it with style and class -- no showboating, just doing the job well and doing it right.
Over those years, Hardy has become a fan favorite for his clutch hitting, slick but efficient fielding, and his absolute team-first attitude. In recent years, he's dealt with some nagging injuries (in baseball, injuries always seem to nag!), and this year he missed nearly three months because of injury.
Yesterday, in the Orioles' final home game of the season, Hardy was inserted into the lineup purportedly because the O's new phenom shortstop, Tim Beckham, had pulled his hamstring. It is generally expected that this was Hardy's final opportunity to play before the home crowd because the O's are not expected to exercise his $11 million option for next season.
So in his first at bat, every Oriole emerged from the dugout and began to clap. Then the opposition Tampa Bay Rays did the same thing and the crowd, as one, stood to its feet and cheered. It was a special moment for Hardy, who in his next at bat clocked one into the left field seats -- once again bringing the crowd to its feat and prompting teammate Manny Machado, whom Hardy has helped to become the star that he is, to push him to the top of the dugout steps for a curtain call and more applause from the crowd.
After the game, Hardy, at 35, said he still wants to play, adding that there is an outside chance he could return to the Orioles. "Definitely, I feel like I'm an Oriole," he said. "I'll be an Oriole for life."
Hopefully, the O's will bring Hardy back next season, albeit at a reduced salary, to serve as a super utility player and so he can continue to coach some of the team's budding young stars. Then, my bet is he becomes a major league coach and ultimately a manager.
“You think of J.J., you think about the word efficient, trustworthy, impactful to his teammates,” Showalter said. “We're very lucky to have had him pass our way. We'll see what the future brings.”