O's celebrate holidays, eager to build on success

O's celebrate holidays, eager to build on success

HANOVER, Md. -- On the heels of the Orioles' first postseason berth in 15 years, there's been plenty of good cheer surrounding the team this holiday season.

"You can definitely tell from the fans' standpoint; it's good to see," right fielder Nick Markakis said of the vibe surrounding the O's heading into 2013. "This will be my eighth season coming up, and the six years prior to this past season, it's been tough. We've had our ups and downs, but we just couldn't pull things together. This past season, when things go right and everybody's on the same page, good things happen. It's just good to bring it back to the city, it's good to see it in the fans.

"And not only the fans, but the whole country knows what the Baltimore Orioles are about now. And we just got to continue with that mind-set, that attitude and play hard, and we'll see at the end of the year [next season] where we are."

Markakis was among a group of Orioles who hosted approximately 80 students from Morrell Park Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon as part of the organization's 34th annual OriolesREACH Holiday Party for Kids.

The party, which featured first through fifth-grade students at the Baltimore school, took place at Dave & Busters in the Arundel Mills Mall. J.J. Hardy, L.J. Hoes, Steve Johnson and manager Buck Showalter were in attendance, as well as former players Al Bumbry, Chris Hoiles, Dave Johnson and Scott McGregor.

The players served lunch, played games and signed autographs for the students, with MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter serving as the emcee. There was also an appearance by the Oriole Bird. Additionally, the Right Side Foundation, the personal charity of Nick and Christina Markakis, made a financial contribution that provided each child with an Under Armour drawstring backpack and a new baseball and glove.

Markakis, who suffered a broken left thumb that ended his season, hasn't picked up a glove yet, but he has been working out for several weeks and is having a regular offseason. He has kept up to date on the Orioles' moves and news around the American League East -- courtesy of his father -- and said Tuesday he doesn't have a preference where he hits in the order so long as he's in it. Markakis made the move to the leadoff spot when Brian Roberts went on the disabled list, and he did exceptionally well, with recently re-signed Nate McLouth taking over when Markakis hurt his thumb.

Coming off an unexpected success like 2012, the Orioles are well aware they won't be sneaking up on anybody next year. But those at Tuesday's party said their attitude next spring won't be any different than it was a year ago.

"There will be some expectations," Hardy said of a club that advanced to the AL Division Series, "but we had expectations for ourselves last Spring Training. We were able to stay focused and do what we wanted to do. I think that we always have expectations as a group in the clubhouse. We all feel like we should be good, and we hold ourselves to high standards."

Added Markakis: "There's always a carryover from every year. There's that antsy itch to get to Spring Training and that long, grueling 162-game schedule. It's all a challenge, it's fun and everybody looks forward to it."

Rookies Johnson and Hoes, who are both Maryland natives, have seen firsthand the excitement generated in the city from last year's club.

"Sometimes when I go out to eat now, I just overhear people talking about the Orioles and how much they can't wait for next season," Hoes said. "Or some people might see me and be like, 'Oh you played for the Orioles ... we are so proud of you guys. We are so glad for you guys, we can't wait for next year to support the team.' Stuff like that. It's definitely been a great thing for the area. Us winning and also the Nationals winning. Baseball is coming back around here."

"They're just excited for next year," Johnson said. "That's what everyone says. And being from here and knowing what the last 14 years have been like, to have the fans kind of have our backs and be excited for next season, that's going to make for a fun start to next year, and hopefully the whole year."

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.