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Sitting in the club level at Ripken Stadium Monday afternoon, I was struck by a disconcerting thought: This guy talking, he’s just a kid.

The thought came to me as I listened to Manny Machado give a press conference prior to his first game with the IronBirds. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Machado was selected in the first round of the MLB’s June draft by the Baltimore Orioles. Two months later, at 11:57 p.m. on Aug. 16, three minutes before the signing deadline was reached, the O’s agreed to Machado’s terms, got the 18-year-old shortstop to put his name on the dotted line, and, if you believe some people, brought into the franchise a player who will one day be Baltimore’s baseball savior. I’m way too big a skeptic to write off on anything that lofty, so all I can say is that the kid has a ton of ability, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he made a splash in the big leagues one day.

But, back to my original point. As I sat listening to Machado, the third pick in the entire nation, the owner of the sixth-highest signing bonus ever awarded to an amateur player ($5.25 million), it occurred to me that, when you strip everything away, he’s a kid who just graduated high school.

I don’t say that dismissively, as in “ahhhh, he’s just a kid,” because he’s certainly not your average teenager. Even slouched behind a microphone, with an oversized jersey draped on his shoulders and a hat pushed down on his ears, he has a commanding physical presence. He’s 6-foot-3 with forearms that bulge, a set of hands he could probably palm my head with and a chin that would stop an overhand right. So no, physically, he is not a child. It was while listening to him answer questions that I began thinking that I was not in the presence of a grown man. Machado, like many people his age, and people from across the age spectrum who haven’t received instruction in public speaking, is not comfortable behind a microphone. His answers to most of the reporters’ questions were short, and generally pretty boring. He did not elaborate when confronted with open-ended queries, and looked relieved when the conference wrapped up.

Hearing Machado speak, I thought of golfer Michelle Wie’s press conference at the LPGA Championship in 2009. Wie, then just 19 and playing in her first season as a professional, said “ummm” about 59 times in four minutes, fidgeted with her hair and generally looked like a very tall teenage girl, but she was obviously well trained in how to handle us journalists. She knew the athletic clichés that get you through tough questions, knew that she had to promote the LPGA brand whenever she got the chance, knew you have to watch what you say, because everything that goes through that microphone is going to wind up in print somewhere. With cameras pointed at her, 20 journalists she doesn’t know firing questions, hot stage lights hanging over her head and having just come off a four-hour round of golf at an LPGA major tournament, she was calm, cool and collected.

The juxtaposition of Wie and Machado is an interesting one, mostly because it will allow me to get back to my original point and end this thing before you get bored. Wie has been dealing with the national media since she was 13, whereas Machado is relatively new to the spotlight. They are both what I’d consider “kids” age-wise, but they are light years apart in social ability. At a time in life when most people would have trouble articulating why they like a certain band, Machado is being thrust out onto the stage, with many in the audience yelling “you’re the savior, Manny!” and being asked at what age he plans to make it to the major leagues. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that he comes off as a bit uncomfortable at this point, because anybody would be.

So, though I think it’s fair to expect somebody who made more than $5 million on a signing bonus to play well, remember this if Manny does falter at some point along the way: Money and hype aside, he’s a kid who just finished high school, and these things take time.


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