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Mullins Passes Early Tests as New Birds' Center Fielder


Let’s face it: From a sports standpoint, the calendar year 2018 has been nothing but lousy around these parts.

We certainly could use a glimmer of hope, some piece of positivity to hitch our collective Charm City wagons to.

It’s only been a couple of weeks, mind you, but newly christened center fielder Cedric Mullins shows signs of being a linchpin of a brighter Orioles future.

The 23-year-old native of Greensboro, NC has given hints that he could be a sparkplug atop the batting order as well as the key to the Birds outfield defense.

In his major league debut against Boston, Mullins collected three hits, drove in a pair of runs and scored three times. Yes, in typical Orioles 2018 fashion, the Birds gave back a five-run lead, but Mullins gave fans a reason to hope.  

Indeed, that Opening Night performance gave Mullins the distinction of being the first player in franchise history to grab three hits in his major league debut.

Last Saturday, the 5-foot-8 Mullins muscled up and smashed his first major league home run in a 4-2 win over Central Division leading Cleveland. And he added two more hits in Sunday’s loss.

Mullins shows every sign of following Paul Blair, Al Bumbry, Mike Devereaux and Adam Jones as standout Baltimore center fielders.

Interestingly enough, it was Jones, as team leader, who made way for Mullins, literally and figuratively on that first night against the Red Sox.

Jones, who typically leads the Orioles onto the field at Camden Yards in the top of the first, ordered Mullins to go first. When the rookie demurred and Trey Mancini started to go, Jones kept Mancini in place until Mullins finally charged out.

It was Jones’ not so subtle way of recognizing a rite of passage. You see, Jones has been the Orioles center fielder since he was traded here in 2008 from Seattle. He’s been a Gold Glove quality fielder and an All-Star caliber hitter.

Jones also been the de facto clubhouse leader and a voice of conscience.

He was the person to speak up about racist behavior from Boston fans and about the paucity of African-American players in baseball. Jones has also made sizable financial contributions to community organizations over the years.

Jones is in the final year of his contract, and club management has, to put it mildly, let him know that his services here may no longer be required.

The team tried to trade him before July 31, but Jones, who has moved to right field to accommodate Mullins, vetoed the trade, using his contractual right as a player who has been in the majors for 10 years and with the same team for five seasons.

Jones, a San Diego native, has put down roots here in Baltimore and might be coaxed to stay with the right offer, but that does not seem to be forthcoming.

So, the month of September may be a bittersweet one, as Orioles fans watch one legend ride into the sunset while a new potential legend sees his star rise.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.