Davey Johnson soaks in Camden Yards from the opposite dugout
Before Friday, Nats skipper hadn't managed a game in Baltimore since Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS
In his first game back at Camden Yards since managing the Orioles in the 1997 ALCS, Washington Nationals skipper Davey Johnson stands in the visitors' dugout Friday night. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun / June 22, 2012)
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Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 333 W Camden St, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
"Feels good to be back," said Johnson, now the manager of the Washington Nationals, before Friday night's series opener against the Orioles.
"Little different view from this angle," he added.
Different view, same landmarks.
There, in the dugout across the field, that's where Johnson watched his final game wearing an Orioles cap. Over the right field wall, that's where Tony Fernandez launched his series-clinching home run in the top of the 11th inning, breaking a scoreless tie for the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the 1997 American League Championship Series. And here, right where Davey Johnson sat on Friday, the Indians celebrated a trip to the World Series as Johnson exited the first-base dugout for what couldn't have felt like the last time.
That wasn't supposed to be the end. After all, Johnson came up as a ballplayer in Baltimore. He came back to manage. And in two seasons as skipper, he led the Orioles to consecutive ALCS appearances.
But Johnson resigned that offseason, on the same day he won the AL Manager of the Year award, over a contractual dispute with Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos.
Much has changed in 15 years. Baltimore hasn't posted a winning record since that 1997 season. Johnson has now managed two other teams: the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999 and 2000 and now the Nationals beginning in 2011.
The city, too, has changed.
"I had to go to a doctor's appointment about two or three weeks ago, and I went out to 33rd Street where the old Memorial Stadium was," Johnson said. "Man, it's gone."
But a decade and a half later, Johnson said he harbors no ill will toward Angelos, and certainly none toward Baltimore. Johnson said he rarely talks to Angelos, but he was touched when his former boss sent flowers after Johnson's daughter Andrea died in 2005.
"That was greatly appreciated," Johnson said. "You know, as a manager, managers are hired to get fired.
"No matter what [the fans] do to me, I'm going to appreciate it. They couldn't do anything to dim any kind of love I have for this community. That's not possible."
Johnson said he remains an Orioles fan, and he's happy they've found success again. Of course, he wasn't cheering when the O's took two of three from the Nationals in May, but he said he hopes to return the favor this weekend.
Either way, this series will have added meaning for Johnson, who spent eight seasons here as a player. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said for him, at least, games against former teams are always emotional.
"You may not say it publically [but] a lot of memories float back," Showalter said. "Maybe I'm an old fuddy-duddy, but emotions anyways come back.
"I know there's a lot of people here in Baltimore think the world of [Johnson], and rightfully so."