ST. PETERSBURG -- Rosa Nunez still doesn't, still can't believe this is real. Manny Machado's mother, one of six family members who left their Miami-area home at 9:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday to arrive just in time for the Orioles' season-opening 3:10 p.m. game, is sitting at Tropicana Field, watching closely as her 20-year-old son singles off Rays ace David Price.
"This is a dream," Nunez says from her perch a section up above the third base-line, as she watches her son play in his first career Opening Day game. "And if it is, then don't wake me up. It's just unbelievable." Nunez, a single parent, was in the stands on Tuesday along with the rest of Machado's support team, a group that includes his uncle, Gio Brito, the only coach Machado had throughout his younger years. An only child, Machado would always be across the street at his uncle's, waiting for Brito to get home so they could play baseball. He would purposely sit out in the front of his home, ensuring Brito parked in the back and the driveway was clear for a little long toss. That was the routine, Monday through Sunday, and it never got old, changing only when Machado was old enough to start playing in games and the wait turned into long car rides from tournament to tournament.
"It is [a family affair]," Machado said of the road to his first Opening Day. "It just reminds me of how we used to travel up here [to the Tampa Bay area], St. Augustine and Georgia and all the places we went to as a family. And it paid off in the end. They are coming to see me here, on the big stage -- the biggest stage of baseball there is. So it just brings back some memories."
There was the time that a 9-year-old Machado -- never much of a breakfast eater -- was playing in a tournament near Vero Beach, Fla., when he informed Brito he had to leave the game; he was going to be sick. Seconds later, Machado was vomiting, and with no towels handy, Nunez had him take off his socks to clean up the mess. Immediately after, Machado was begging to get back in the game.
"He just always wanted to be out there," Nunez said. "He never wanted to sit on the sidelines or watch other people. All he ever wanted to do was be out there, playing baseball."
Sure enough, Machado went back on the field -- sockless -- that day, and the youngster has brought the same fire to the Orioles since being promoted from Double-A Bowie last Aug. 9. The 31st player in club history to debut before his 21st birthday, Machado hit a pair of homers and a triple in his first two games, and he went on to hit .262 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 51 regular-season games.
"It's abnormal," third-base coach Bobby Dickerson said of Machado's maturity. "In all the years I've been developing players, it's rare to see a kid that is not in awe of everything, but he respects everything. It's a good mix. He feels he belongs. But he respects the level, he respects the people and tries to honor the people who came before him. He doesn't by any means think anything is supposed to be given to him.
"Getting to know him, I know his grandfather was a big influence in his life, as far as baseball was concerned. He's a gifted player, first and foremost. And by no means is he perfect; he's learning he's going to make his share of mistakes. His ability to turn the page has been impressive. That's one of the things I like most. He makes his mistakes, and he tries to learn from them and move forward."
It was Machado's late grandfather, Francisco Nunez, who instilled that kind of attitude in him, preaching the importance of staying humble and telling his grandson to work on his bunting every evening when Machado would come home and rush in to relay the game's events. Nunez, who passed away on Dec. 24, 2009, never got to see Machado get drafted, but his lessons still resonate with the young infielder.
"We always used to watch Opening Day, every year, when he was around in the house," said Machado, who traces the initials "F.N." into the infield dirt before the start of every game. "And now to be on the Opening Day roster, obviously he's not here to watch me, but he's going to be up there watching me from where he watches me every day."
Following Tuesday's game -- a 7-4 Orioles win -- Machado's family made the long drive back, with Wednesday's work day looming. Brito will also miss the home opener in Baltimore on Friday because of work, but he made sure to tell Machado he would be in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, looking on as his nephew -- always playing against the bigger, older kids -- stepped in as the Orioles' No. 2 hitter.
"To have him in the stands to watch me Opening day after all the stuff we went through when we were younger, this is what we dreamed about," Machado said. "We used to go to games, to Marlins games. We came here before to Tampa [as fans]. Now, to be in the Opening Day lineup, playing, and my whole family is going to be able to watch me play, it's something that means a lot to me."
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.