BOWIE, Md. -- In 2012, Xavier Avery had four stints with the Orioles, even traveling with them during the playoffs.
A year later, he’s 27 miles and two steps away from Oriole Park.
Avery has a corner locker in the modest clubhouse at Prince George’s Stadium, and more than four hours before game time, he’s carrying his pregame meal in a McDonald’s paper bag.
At 23, he’s the same age as a lot of his teammates, but they didn’t play 32 games with the Orioles nor spray Champagne after the Wild Card game in Texas.
He was one of the team’s first cuts in early March, and with the Orioles signing a host of non-roster outfielders with substantial major league experience, he found himself in Bowie, and it was a shock.
“Of course, man. I took a step back. I didn’t expect to be here, so of course, I’m surprised,” Avery said.
“When they told me, I just said ‘OK,’ I’ve got to go down there and try to get better, and put in my work. That’s how I did [it]. That’s how I react.”
He fits in easily with his teammates, playing cards before game, trying to remember why he’s here and not in Baltimore or Norfolk.
Avery played 32 games and batted .223 with a home run and six RBIs.
“It’s just more mental than anything, honestly, being sent down after being up in the big leagues, being in Triple-A. You’ve got to stay focused mentally. That’s the hardest part. Other than that, playing is the same. Playing on the field is still a grind, so you’ve got to focus on it,” Avery said.
He entered Sunday with a .277 average with a home run and 10 RBIs. Avery is playing center field, and his manager, Gary Kendall, who also had him in 2011 with the Baysox, says he’s doing well.
“When it was presented to him in spring training, he didn’t put his head down. He didn’t ask why. He didn’t complain. He knows based on what has happened here in the past, guys get the opportunity to go to the big leagues from Double-A. It can [just as] easily happen here as it can from Norfolk,” Kendall said.
While Avery is on the 40-man roster unlike most of the Norfolk roster, he doesn’t believe that that’s an advantage.
“The reality is that I’m two steps away, so that’s how I’ve got to treat it. I understand you can get called up from Double-A and that’s in the back of my head, but at the same time, I’ve got to take reality in and say that I’m two steps away, and work two times harder,” Avery said.
He says he’s happy with how he’s playing though he’s struck out 36 times in 27 games.
“I’m getting in the groove now. When I’m seeing the ball well, I’m laying off pitches,” Avery said.
“I had a little rough stretch here. The whole time I was in that stretch, I was just focused on getting out of it, shortening the time of failure. That’s the main thing towards being consistent. Good hitters tend to get out of a slump quickly, but I got out of it in a week, I feel like whereas in the past, I might go two, three weeks so that was my main goal to keep getting better, continue to try and be consistent.”
As someone who’s played in both the majors, Triple-A and Double-A, he has noticed a difference.
“From my experience, you just have smarter players up there in Triple-A. Down here in Double-A, you have talent down here,” Avery said.
“You see guys with good arms, plus arms, and that might show you signs of [being a] big leaguer one day. The same with Triple-A, but overall I think it’s just a smarter group of players up there in Norfolk, I think. As far as playing, it’s similar, it’s very similar.”
Avery hasn’t had any calls from his teammates last year, and his world now is his Baysox teammates. When he was assigned to Bowie, the Orioles told him not to pout, to continue his work. He still thinks he has a future 27 miles away in Baltimore.
“I’m still confident. I’m still here. I’m still in the Orioles organization. I’m confident. My confidence is always going to be up as long as I have a jersey on my back,” Avery said.