MILWAUKEE -- If the All-Star break is a transformative experience for some, perhaps that has never been so literal than it was for Manny Machado, who entered the break as an Oriole and exited it a Dodger.
Machado joined his new club Friday in Milwaukee, where the Dodgers opened a three-game weekend series against the Brewers with a 6-4 victory. He singled in his first at-bat and went 2-for-3 with two walks a couple of hours after addressing the media for the first time in his new blue L.A. threads.
"I'm relieved," Machado said. "Relieved it finally got done. It's exciting to be here. It's a great group, great organization, with a lot of baseball history. I'll just come here and be myself and try to fit into the club around here."
After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Machado fit in just fine. Maybe better than fine.
"I thought he fit in great," Roberts said. "And even before the game, talking in the food room and laughing with guys, talking to [Clayton Kershaw] and [Chase Utley], on the bench he's talking to the hitting coach and talking to guys, I think he's pretty comfortable. Today, for a guy who has known no other organization than the Baltimore Orioles, I think he's as comfortable as we would hope."
The Dodgers acquired Machado from Baltimore on Wednesday in exchange for five prospects, one day after he went 0-for-2 as the American League's starting shortstop in the All-Star Game -- wearing an Orioles uniform.
Now it's a new league, a new team, a new uniform and a new beginning.
To underscore the fresh start, Machado selected uniform No. 8 rather than negotiating for the No. 13 he wore in Baltimore that is worn by Dodgers slugger Max Muncy. Machado chose the new number for a very L.A. reason that won't do anything to harm his relationship with his new fans.
"No. 8 was I wanted to change it up," Machado said. "New beginning, new journey, new team. I wanted to grow that route. I was a huge Kobe [Bryant] fan growing up. My dog's name is Kobe."
After Machado poked a single to right in his first Dodgers at-bat, the ball was returned to the L.A. dugout. Turns out, it was the team's doing; Machado didn't know the ball had been saved until after the game. That was part and parcel for a player who, despite all the hoopla surrounding his arrival, approached Friday simply as a chance to play baseball. Machado said he wasn't nervous because the field is his "happy space." Plus, he looked nifty in his new threads. Though, after seven years in one team's uniform, there was a moment when it all felt a little weird. In a good way.
"Going for seven years putting on the same uniform," Machado said. "It is always an honor to put on a uniform. Finally got traded, and everything is behind me now. I was able to put on a new uniform today for the first time, and it felt beyond great. That blue looks pretty good on me."
With one game, one win and an .800 on-base percentage under his belt, Machado now has nine more games on the road with L.A. over the next nine days before he finally makes his home debut at Dodger Stadium on July 30 against Milwaukee. That likely will be another emotional day for Machado, but by then, he figures to be thoroughly embedded with his new club after joining them in the crucible of road life -- flights, buses, hotels and restaurants.
For the Dodgers, the addition of Machado is the latest midseason splash for a franchise that has won the National League West in each of the past five seasons. After a slow start, L.A. rebounded to nab a narrow half-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks atop the division. Yet with starting shortstop Corey Seager out for the season with an elbow injury, the Dodgers were one star short, narrowing their chances to snap a championship drought that has stretched to 30 years. No longer.
"I'm here to play baseball," Machado said. "I've been there quite a few times. My wife loves it; my family does as well. We're just looking forward to enjoying the beautiful weather that's out there. Going out there to play and try to win a championship."
With Machado heading into free agency after the season and the Orioles sinking to franchise-worst levels, it seemed to be a matter of time before he was moved. In the meantime, he fielded daily questions about his prolonged state of limbo, especially when Baltimore passed through cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Chicago -- all with teams thought to be interested in nabbing the young All-Star. And don't forget about Milwaukee, Machado's first opponent with L.A.
"We think Manny was really the most impactful player that was on the market at the time," Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "I think any contender could see that he could make a positive impact on them. So there was a lot of teams involved. We just tried to stay engaged.
"As I mentioned a couple of days ago when the deal went down, this has been in the making for over a month, and I know conversations with those other teams were taking place too. For a player of Manny's caliber, you know you're going to have to give up a lot, and we did. That speaks to what we think this team can accomplish and how great a player we think he is."
Machado remained open and gracious with his time throughout the process, but when the midseason break arrived, he seemed to be growing weary of the constant questions. Now while the questions won't stop, at least the intent behind them will be refreshingly different.
"From now on, every game counts," Machado said. "We're trying to win games, trying to win the division, trying to get to the postseason. It's a team sport. I'm just coming here to try to help the team however I can, whether it's defense, offense, third, short, wherever it is. I'm here to just play."
Machado entered his Dodgers debut hitting a career-best .315 with 24 homers and 65 RBIs despite toiling in a Baltimore lineup that afforded him few run-scoring chances. All 96 of his appearances for the Orioles came at shortstop, where he moved full time before this season. He has played the majority of his career at third base, however, and despite his preference for playing short, the Dodgers plan to move Machado around -- eventually -- just as they prefer to do with all their position players.
To begin his L.A. tenure in Friday's game, Machado played short and manager Dave Roberts penciled him in as the No. 2 hitter, between Chris Taylor and Muncy. Machado has batted second more often than any other batting order slot through his career, so that is familiar terrain.
"It's kind of the 2 and 3," Roberts said. "We're going to kind of bounce him around. Haven't really honed in exactly where, but a player of his caliber, obviously, we're going to give him some consistency. His reception to [playing third] was very open. He hasn't taken any grounders this year at third base, so you have to appreciate that and understand that he hasn't done it all year. We want to put him in the best position to have success.
"For him to be open to it is one thing, but for the foreseeable future, I think we're going to give him a little runway to play short and see how it looks for us. Just having him open to play third base if needed will only help us."
What wasn't familiar for Machado was the blue hat, the NL teammates and the quantum leap from Baltimore's 39½-game deficit in the AL East at the break and the Dodgers' half-game advantage in the NL West. No wonder Machado was all smiles.
"I want to win," Machado said. "At the end of the day, I want to win a ring. Everyone in there wants to win a ring. Whatever I can to do to make the process better or easier for the team, I'm all for it."
While Machado can now look forward to a World Series chase rather than trade-related questions on a daily basis, that doesn't mean inquiries about his future will cease altogether. Machado will be one of the prized teammates on the market this winter, and the high-dollar Dodgers surely will seek to lock him up. Naturally, as the rest of the season unfolds, people will wonder if he wants to stick around Chavez Ravine. During his first news conference as a Dodger, the subject came up.
"Honestly, this has been going so fast -- everything has been so crazy, right? -- I haven't really thought about it," Machado said. "Just trying to live in the moment, enjoy this, coming here. I was excited to put the blue on, and I'm just looking forward to putting on my jersey tonight."
What would certainly help sell Machado on his new club would be a championship experience, one that L.A. hasn't given anyone since 1988. It didn't happen in 1998, the 10-year mark of the last championship, nor at the 20-year mark, in 2008, when the Dodgers nabbed another trade-deadline Manny -- the irrepressible Manny Ramirez, whom L.A. acquired from the Boston Red Sox.
Closer Kenley Jansen got the final three outs of Friday's win for his 28th save. His face lit up with a smile when asked what he thought about the new infielder playing behind him who garnered so much attention on Friday. He even referenced the first go-round of Manny mania in Dodger lore.
"Awesome," Jansen said. "A fit for L.A. He's our new Mannywood 2.0, I guess. We're happy to have him. We know he's going to do damage in this organization. That's a great boost for us, and you could see it today what kind of difference he makes in that lineup."
With 11 days until the trade deadline, the Dodgers still have time to put the finishing touches on a roster that Vegas now favors to win the NL for a second straight year. Like most contenders, the Dodgers could use another arm or two in the bullpen. But the heavy lifting is done after landing Machado, easily the most transformative player on the trade market. L.A. landed the big one; now it's just a matter of him fitting in. No one seems to think that will be a problem.
"This is a player who has been with the same organization his entire career," Roberts said. "To come to a different team, a new league, as we talked about the No. 8, the new beginnings, I think that is a great way to look at it. He is a veteran player who is on the verge of free agency, but to embrace this as a new journey for himself and his wife, I think it's a good way to kind of go about it."