The Orioles may not have needed it, but they'll earn even more validation for the trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle on Tuesday, when center fielder Adam Jones plays in his first All-Star Game. Jones joins closer George Sherrill, who also came over from the Mariners and notched his first All-Star appearance with the Orioles last season.
And the trade's not done paying dividends to the Orioles. As Bedard nears free agency for the first time, the Orioles are beginning to ponder promoting Chris Tillman, the top pitching prospect acquired in the move. For now, though, it's time for Jones to show the league -- and himself -- that he belongs in truly elite company.
"Being over here in Baltimore is a dream come true," said Jones recently. "I think it's the best thing that happened to me and my career. Coming to a franchise that was rebuilding, and getting an opportunity to play every single day, that's all I ask. Over in Seattle, I wanted to play every day. I loved their franchise, but it didn't work out there, so I'm glad that I'm here. ... I was telling George, 'Now, they have two All-Stars that they traded away.' "
And in Jones and Sherrill, they have two players that rapidly improved in their new roles. Baltimore played Jones nearly every day last year, allowing him to have a normal learning curve as a rookie. This year, the Orioles installed Jones as their No. 2 hitter, nestled between leadoff man Brian Roberts and right fielder Nick Markakis.
That spot suited the youngster well, and he had two torrid months to start the season. Jones batted .359 with a .433 on-base percentage in April, and then he followed that up by hitting .333 with seven home runs in May.
"From Day 1, he clearly has grown as a player," said Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations. "I think we expected that he would be an occasional All-Star when we traded for him. I don't know that we expected that it would be his second full season for us. But we're very pleased for him and for the organization."
The youngster has cooled off in June, but he's continued to play his fleet-footed defense in the outfield. Jones said that month was one of those humbling times baseball can provide to any player, and he feels he's already learned from it. He learned from a great source, injured All-Star Torii Hunter, that if he's not helping with his bat, he certainly can with his glove.
"He said, 'If you don't have a hit, whoever hits the ball near you sure isn't getting a hit,'" Jones said. "That's what I'm starting to live by. I wish he was here. He's my favorite player in the league and a good dude. He's a humble guy. I wish I could see him. I hope he gets better."
It's hard to find another player on either All-Star squad who's improved more than Jones over the past year. He hit just nine home runs in his first full big league season and will likely set career highs in runs and RBIs this year. Those standards are in reach largely because he missed a month of last season after breaking a bone in his foot.
"I think Jones is unique in that you really don't have to tell him twice," said manager Dave Trembley. "He's receptive to learning. He doesn't think he knows it all. He's got almost a sixth sense. He's able to figure out a lot of things on his own. I haven't been around a guy that has shown so much improvement from one year to the next."
Jones is a big reason why there's some cause for optimism in Baltimore, despite the fact the Orioles sit at the bottom of the AL East. Being named to the All-Star Game makes Jones the perfect representative of the youth movement that has been making progress, even if it hasn't yet been reflected in the standings.
"That city would erupt if we were playing meaningful baseball in August and September," Jones said. "That's one thing the city is waiting for. I'm waiting for it also. I think in a couple of years, it'll be here. You have to go through the tough times to get to the good times, I think.
"This is a good thing for our organization and the city of Baltimore. I'm more excited that I get to wear Baltimore across my chest than just have it say Orioles because I'm representing the city, not just the franchise."
He'll do that by walking around with his eyes wide open and convincing himself he belongs here.
"I'm just happy to be here, I'm thrilled," he said. "I'm still a little nervous being around all these guys here, but I'm starting to feel more comfortable.
"It hit me when I walked into the room when we had the American League meeting: 'Wow, I'm really here.' I'm going to soak it all in. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment."
Spencer Fordin and Jonathan Mayo are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less