09/16/10 2:00 PM ET
Tireless effort fueled rise of O's Machado
Shortstop prospect turning heads with talent, maturity
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
Most evenings, Brito -- Machado's primary father figure -- would barely get a chance to drop off his bag. Once Machado, who passed the time taking idle swings, saw him inch toward the doorstep, visions of Goodlet Park -- a mere five-minute walk -- danced through his consciousness. Five-thirty p.m. might have been the time Brito clocked out, but for Machado it was go-time.
And the skinny kid from Hialeah, Fla., about a half-hour drive from fellow Miami product Alex Rodriguez's old haunt, has seemingly been on warp speed ever since.
The 18-year-old Machado, who was selected by the Orioles with the third overall pick in this year's First-Year Player Draft, was considered one of three stand-alone talents in this year's crop of budding young players. Major League scouts came from all over the country to salivate over his raw talent and five-tool potential, some daring enough to compare him to Rodriguez -- the player Machado became whenever he would allow himself to fantasize on the fields at Goodlet or from the stands at Florida Marlins games, with the company his mother worked for occasionally giving them tickets.
"He's hungry," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who pitched to a young Machado along with son Ozney, who has been been best friends with Machado since they were 10.
"[Machado] wants to be good. ... I've see this kid prove himself day by day, week by week, year by year, to get better. I never thought he would be this good."
The scrawny kid, who Brito put at shortstop in the infancy of his Little League career because a young Machado was the rare 6-year-old who could field and make the throw to first, quickly became the nation's top position player not named Bryce Harper. With the growing hype -- and an impressive two-homer, nine-RBI performance to lead the USA Baseball 18U National Team to its first gold medal -- came the crowds. By Machado's senior year, Miami Brito Private High School coach Lazaro Fundora nearly had to install an extra bench to accommodate those wanting to catch a glimpse of the young phenom. But when asked what game best sums up Machado's persona, Fundora points to a three-error affair, a contest in which Machado also struck out in his first at-bat.
"Any other kid with 30, 35 scouts out there [would have cracked], but he just continued having fun -- didn't let the pressure get to him," Fundora said of Machado, who went on to double, triple and drive in five runs.
"That night I kind of smiled about it and said, 'Wow,'" Fundora said. "We are talking about a kid who the limelight is on him, he's failed four times yet he kept himself in the game, he kept his team in the game. He kind of smiled and came through it."
Those closest to Machado attribute that steady presence to growing up in a close-knit Dominican family, with Brito and mother Rosa Nunez, who works in exports, the anchors. When Machado heard his name on Draft day, amid the joyful tears and MLB Network interview, the teenager thought about what this day would have meant to his grandfather Francisco Nunez, who had passed away on Christmas Eve.
"He always pushed me. He always told me, 'Manny, don't stop working,'" said Machado, who has started every game since with a sign of the cross and tracing of Nunez's initials onto the infield dirt.
Every night after baseball practice, Machado would poke his head in to say goodnight, and Nunez would ask him if he worked on his bunting. Every great player, according to Nunez, should know how to bunt. Machado, who has already used the phrase "respect your elders" in reference to the reverence he holds for short-season Aberdeen's coaching staff, smiles sheepishly when asked if he followed Nunez's sage advice. It's the only time Machado, who frequently describes himself as a regular kid, actually appears as one.
"His life was basically the game," Fundora said. "We played and practiced, and then he'd go home, do his homework [and] study a bit. He wasn't the party kind, or any of that."
"[It] all goes back to his roots. Growing up without a dad, poor, they grew up really poor. ... I think that kind of life helped him along the way. He had to mature a lot quicker."
Machado, who is as humble as the Guillen clan is outspoken, plans on moving into Ozney's Miami apartment this offseason for a shorter commute to his workouts. But he is more excited about another change of address, one that will move Rosa and the rest of his family into a brand-new house, Machado's first big purchase with his $5.25 million signing bonus.
"He grew up the right way," said Guillen, who was among those in attendance at the Machado's townhouse, which has since been given to Manny's aunt, to anxiously watch the Draft. "He has good people around him."
The same can be said in regard to Machado's professional career, where he has forged immediate friendships with other top infield prospects shortstop Mychal Givens (2009 second rounder) and third baseman Connor Narron, who was the O's fifth-round selection this year. The trio met at the team's Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla., where Givens was rehabbing from a left thumb injury, and Narron and Machado -- both late signs -- were looking to get some Gulf Coast League at-bats.
"It was just a click when we first got to meet each other," Givens said of Machado, who related to his Florida roots and indulged his new roommate in video competitions on "MLB 10: The Show," results which often involved Machado taking some good-nature ribbing.
"He acts more like a 50th-round pick than a first-round pick," said Narron, who was moved to Aberdeen on the same day as Machado and Givens, a talented young infield the organization would prefer to move along together.
It's something the trio has discussed, keeping stride through the Orioles system and one day hoisting a World Series trophy on the streets in Baltimore. But for now, those expectations -- and the burden that goes with them -- can wait. Machado, who according to Brito made his dream clear "as soon as he could talk," is still in disbelief that is getting paid to play baseball.
"A lot of teams get worried when they draft guys really high, they are worried about the ego issue," said roving Minor League infield coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bordick. "There isn't a separation there [between him and the other players], which I think he wants."
"There's an eagerness it seems, which is exciting. ... There is an inner drive, and he wants to work for it -- not have it handed to him."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.