When Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis went looking to buy his first real house in the Baltimore area, he wanted to purchase something that reminded him of his beloved home state Georgia. Having lived briefly on the 22nd floor of Spinnaker Bay in the heart of downtown Baltimore and later in a Canton row house with close friend and Orioles teammate, pitcher Adam Loewen, Markakis was eager to leave city life behind in favor of a more countrified existence.
"I'm not too much of a city guy," admits the 24-year-old Markakis who also owns a brick rancher in Cartersville, Georgia. "It gets on your nerves after a while. Every time I wanted to walk the dog, I had to take an elevator. It's kind of like living in a jail, [but] with no walls around it."
So, looking to make a clean break from city life, Markakis started searching for a new neighborhood amidst the rolling hills of northern Baltimore County.
"I had somewhat of a mindset of what I was looking for," he says. "I was on the way to see another house when I passed this house with my real estate agent. I took one look at it, and I bought it that day. I have enough neighbors to be comfortable, but not too many. It reminded me of my house in Georgia, somewhat out in the country and quiet."
After purchasing the four bedroom, four-and-a-half bath Monkton Colonial set on two woodsy acres, Markakis set his sights on making his house a home. With little furniture to his name, he called on the decorating talents of Kristen Peake of the Rockville-based Kristen Peake Interiors to fill the sprawling space. One thing was for certain: Family and friends would have to be central to the setting. The home has three guest rooms and a rotating corps of people passing through, from his three brothers—Dennis, 26, Michael, 20, and Gregory, 17—to his parents, Mary Lou and Dennis, to his Floridian girlfriend, elementary school teacher Christina Dutko.
While the home is lovely, with its roomy furniture and state-of-the-art kitchen, it remains understated and tasteful. Says Markakis's sports agent Jamie Murphy, "Nick is not the type of guy that's going to buy a three million dollar house, brag about it, and put it on MTV's Cribs. It's just not his style—he prefers to live in the country where there are not that many hassles or where he doesn't get noticed a lot."
Amazingly, the decorating details were worked out over a mere 20-minute conference call between Markakis, Peake, Murphy, and Markakis's senior marketing manager, Olivia Cabrera.
"I wasn't here to plan anything," says Markakis who shares his home with his weimaraner Riley. "I left it in Kristen's hands."
Recalls Peake laughing at the memory, "We had one phone call during spring training in Fort Lauderdale. I could hear the crack of the bat over the phone."
Markakis's edict was simple: "He told me being comfortable was of the utmost importance," says Peake, who finished the project at record speed in one month. "I knew he wanted a big TV in the family room, and he wanted comfort and being able to seat a lot of people."
When Markakis saw the home for the first time in late March after returning from Florida, he was thrilled. "I didn't know what to expect when I walked in," he says. "I was impressed with what I saw."
"You were?" beams Peake, as if hearing feedback for the first time.
"Yes," continues Markakis. "I couldn't complain about any of it—I'm easy to please."
The ladies in his life liked it, too. Dutko, who wears a heart-shaped diamond "promise ring" (sorry, girls) loved it. "It definitely captures him," she says. "It's not over the top, but it's beautiful and simple."
"I loved it," says mom Mary Lou. "I thought it was perfect for him."
With few marching orders, Peake put together a home that is tailored, simple, and sophisticated. "I looked at the house and saw the traditional elements and architecture," she says. "I tried to create a tone on tone effect so it would be neutral, and it would always be easy enough for him to sell."
Markakis's parents also got in on the act. They picked out the dishes, the wall-to-wall carpeting, the granite kitchen countertops, and the bathroom décor.
Architectural detailing, including white wainscoting in the 18-foot foyer, coffered ceilings in the kitchen and family room, and a tray ceiling in the bedroom contribute to the beauty of the home. While Markakis's favorite color is red, the space is suffused in a neutral palette of beiges, grays, and warm browns. And although Markakis doesn't cook, Dutko enjoys whipping up lasagna and brownies in a kitchen outfitted with the latest in stainless steel KitchenAid appliances, warm cherry cabinets, and handsome oak flooring. (And for those times when Dutko is not in town, Markakis says that he enjoys an occasional trip to Harbor East's Fleming's or Taco Fiesta with teammates.)
Unique knickknacks and accessories offer visual counterpoints to the neutral color scheme. A set of tribal sculptures is displayed in the family room. Lovely botanical prints purchased from a gallery in California sit over the gas fireplace in the family room, and cherished family photos are on display in nearly every room.
Thanks to his love of just "hanging out," televisions loom large in nearly every room (there are six of them), including a 60-inch Hitachi TV in the family room with a state-of-the-art Bose sound system where Markakis enjoys sitting on his oversized chenille sectional sofa watching Fox's Prison Break or, he says, "pretty much anything on ESPN."
With workdays that are both physically and mentally draining, Markakis is a homebody who wants nothing more than to relax off the field. When asked if he socializes with his teammates, he says, "We're together nine hours a day. A lot of the guys just need to be away and relax and need their privacy when they're not at work."
As of yet, he hasn't even had time to meet his neighbors (though Orioles owner Peter Angelos shares a zip code).
"I really don't do too much," shrugs Markakis. "I go to the field and by the time I get home it's late, and I just hang out at home."
When asked to define how he "hangs out," he says, "I do it all—video games, watching TV. I like to play Tiger Woods Golf, and I play the Wii."
With his broad shoulders, spinach-can crushing biceps, and deep brown eyes hidden behind a baseball cap (this day, worn backwards), Markakis definitely has matinee-idol good looks. That, coupled with his tremendous on-field play, has made him one of the marquee stars of the Orioles. But Markakis is a man of few words—both on and off the field. At work, says Murphy, "He's a throwback. He's more like a player who came up in the 50's, 60's, 70's. As a [young player], he understands his place on the team and does a lot more listening than talking. A lot of players take to instant stardom. He defers to the veterans. He stays quiet and learned the game from the guys that have been there longer."
In person, Markakis is extremely quiet, and according to those who know him best, he can be painfully shy.
"There are two distinct Nicks," says Murphy. "The public one when he is quiet and somewhat withdrawn, and the private one with friends in the clubhouse when he is putting on a show for teammates by balancing things on his chin. When you're young and famous, you have to learn to be a little bit guarded."
In all areas of his life, in fact, Markakis seeks balance, not always easy to achieve when you are the team's wunderkind with all of Camden Yards—from teammates to fans to owners—watching with great expectations.
With his love of open space and the majority of his childhood spent in bucolic Woodstock, Georgia, Markakis's new home is helping him to achieve some of that balance and return to his pastoral roots. At heart, Markakis is a country boy who—while most of his teammates shelled out the big bucks for Cadillac Escalades and BMW 7 series—splurged on a Ford F-150 pickup truck after signing with the O's. In his spare time, he hunts deer, fishes, collects guns, and counts fellow countrymen George Strait and Kenny Chesney as his favorite musicians.
The tattoo on Markakis's right arm—a cross with the name Taylor Scott Randahl emblazoned across his forearm—tells another piece of the story. Markakis's best friend from high school died in a tragic biking accident when the boys were 16.
"That was a turning point for him," explains his mother. "On the day of Taylor's funeral, they had a double-header for the state playoffs. Nick asked the coach if he could come late so he could go to the funeral, so he got there at the beginning of the second game when they were down three, but with everything going on in his head and his heart, he shut the other team down. [Markakis pitched in high school.] I think he was playing for Taylor."
Though no one is willing to say it for the record, the purchase of a substantial four-bedroom home is a statement that Markakis is committed to playing for the Orioles for the long haul, despite the fact that he has yet to sign a multiyear contract and could be traded at any time. When asked to confirm whether this home means Baltimore gets to keep him for at least another few years, his mother says, "yes" without elaborating.
"Seeing Nick's success is surreal," she says. "It doesn't seem possible even though this is something he has always wanted to do. I just want him to do well like any mother. For now, he is living his dream."