As a youngster growing up in southwest Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood, Steve Clevenger and his buddies could walk to Camden Yards whenever they wanted to catch an Orioles game.
The Mariners’ backup catcher lived “five to 10 blocks” from the ballpark, he said, so those trips were frequent.
“Me and my cousins would go down there and get some tickets and just walk around the stadium and enjoy it,” Clevenger said on Sunday inside the Mariners’ clubhouse. “We went to a lot of games in the summertime.”
It was “awesome” then, when Clevenger was traded in July 2013 to the Orioles by the Chicago Cubs (the same deal that sent yet-to-blossom star pitcher Jake Arrieta to the Cubs). He relished the time he spent playing for the club he grew up watching, and last August became the first Baltimore-born Oriole to hit a home run in Camden Yards, according to the Baltimore Sun. But Clevenger appeared in only 75 games during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, bouncing back and forth between the big leagues and Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia.
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He hit well enough in the minors to earn a spot on the International League All-Star team last season, but the Orioles wanted more from him behind the plate (he also played some first base and designated hitter). When Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters accepted the club’s qualifying offer in November — with catcher Caleb Joseph already on the roster — Clevenger figured he was headed elsewhere.
Sure enough, the Orioles in December dealt him to Seattle in exchange for first baseman Mark Trumbo — whose salary the Mariners wanted to unload — and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. Clevenger said he was grateful for the opportunity.
“I hadn’t really had a place over there the last two and a half years,” Clevenger said. “I’d been an up-and-down guy over there, and there just hasn’t been a spot on the roster for me. I’m excited for my career to come here and play in Seattle. Sad to leave home. It’s always fun to play at home. But at the same time, this is a better opportunity over here for me.”
With the Mariners beginning a three-game series on Tuesday at Camden Yards, Clevenger at least gets to play again in front of his friends and family, many of whom still live in Baltimore.
“I’m sure there will probably be 50 people there I know, at least,” he said.
It sets up as an interesting series. The Mariners are off to their most encouraging start to a season in more than a decade, and the Orioles entered Monday tied atop the American League East standings.
Baltimore (23-13) is also the only American League team with more home runs than the Mariners — 55 to Seattle’s 50 — and Trumbo, incidentally, is a big part of that. After hitting 13 home runs in 96 games with Seattle last season, Trumbo entered Monday tied for third in the AL with 11 homers through 36 games for the Orioles.
Clevenger has appeared in 10 games this season as a left-handed hitting option behind starting catcher Chris Iannetta, batting .188 with a home run and four RBI. (He also drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Angels on Saturday night — following a 10-pitch at-bat – before the Mariners wasted the five-run rally and blew the lead in the ninth.)
As they head to Baltimore, Clevenger said he’s more focused on trying to help the Mariners continue winning than he is on playing again in his hometown.
“It’s always fun to go back home,” Clevenger said. “It’ll be an exciting series. They’re playing good ball. So are we. That’s kind of what I’m looking forward to.
“Like I said, I feel really welcomed (in Seattle). I feel really relaxed. It’s great. I’m very excited to be here and for the opportunity I have.”