I’ve been saying for the better part of six weeks now that the Orioles are going to threaten the .500 mark in 2011, so a week spent hanging around the players isn’t the impetus for a new barrel of enthusiasm on my part.
Sarasota confirmed what I’ve been thinking all along. Barring major injuries to a few key players, this edition of the Orioles will be the best one we’ve seen since the club won 78 games in 2004. I’m almost willing to bet on that. I’ve said this over and over and will continue to stand by it: If this year’s team doesn’t go at least .500, you can label it a failure.
While I was in Sarasota last week, I got the feeling the Orioles are thinking the same way. Even though Andy MacPhail said the team has “higher aspirations” than finishing .500, I’m sure he’s realistic enough to know that winning at least 81 games this season would be a significant accomplishment for a team that hasn’t won more than 74 in six straight campaigns.
Player after player seemed genuinely enthused. Getting better teammates will do that, I suppose.
There were light moments along the way, as the Orioles started out 3-0 on the week. Even though it’s “only spring training”, most players would tell you that winning games, under Buck Showalter, is much better than losing. I even got the chance to rib Jake Fox a little bit, as you’ll see below.
My week in Sarasota also confirmed something else. I miss covering baseball with the same fervor and energy that I cover the Ravens. This isn’t the time and place to go into the recent history of a relationship-gone-bad between yours truly and the Orioles front office…so I won’t. Anyone who has followed my show and the life-and-times-of-WNST knows most of the details by now. We’ve been “on the outside” for a while. Anyway, a month ago, I submitted a request for spring training credentials and – somewhat to my surprise – it was approved, so I headed off – with Glenn Clark in tow – to Sarasota to do four hours of radio per-day down there and do my best to secure as many interviews and get to know as many of the 2011 Birds as I could.
It was a great week. And that’s an understatement.
Without getting into specifics, name-wise, there were individuals with the team’s front office who treated me ultra-professionally all week. They know who they are, because I sent them a personal note of thanks on Friday once I was finished the 2-6pm show. Their cooperation and assistance made the week in Sarasota not only productive for me, but they made it a bonus for YOU, too, since you were the beneficiary of the 25 or so interviews we were able to do during our five days in Florida. You learned something about J.J. Hardy and Kevin Gregg, part of the “new crew”, and you were able to hear other conversations with Orioles veterans like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Jeremy Guthrie. You heard 18+ plus minutes of Andy MacPhail. And every interview was done without interference from a team staffer.
I can say without question that last week in Sarasota was as memorable as any week of football coverage that I’ve done over the last five years in which I’ve done radio from the site of the Super Bowl.
Then again, I love baseball. I always have. And ever since I was old enough to play catch with my dad in the front yard of our house in Glen Burnie, I’ve loved the Orioles.
Last week was also very special because my family joined me mid-week and Ethan – my 3-year old boy – took in the Red Sox/O’s game in Sarasota on Saturday. We’ve been to Orioles games in Baltimore before, but this was our first outing together in spring training. And just like there’s something special about taking your son or daughter to a professional major league game in the cathedral of a stadium where big league games take place, there’s something equally enthralling about soaking in a game in a spring training park. It’s almost as if that’s how baseball really SHOULD be played, where the players hang out in the fenced in area just down the right and left field lines and where you can shout their name, throw a ball to them, and they’ll sign it and pass it around to the other guys…while the game is going on!
Spring training games are where players perfect that lazy walk that only professional ballplayers own…you know, the one where it takes 7 minutes to shuffle to the dugout from the opening in the right field wall. Ethan watched as Joe Mahoney and Caleb Joseph slowly walked across the field, some 50 yards in front of him, and said to me, “Daddy, what are they doing?”. The answer wasn’t “walking to the dugout”. The answer was, “Soaking it all in”. But I didn’t know how to explain “soaking it all in” so I just went with the much-easier-to-understand “walking to the dugout”.
Ahhh, the life of a baseball player. Nothing beats it…especially in the spring, when the games don’t really matter, unless you’re trying to impress the boss and make the opening day roster.
Think of how much fun your place of employment would be today if you went in and the results of the day REALLY didn’t mean anything. Add to that the fact that your job moves to south Florida for 7 weeks and the results don’t matter while you’re there.
No wonder most of the players have so much fun in Sarasota.
I had everything you could possibly want last week in Florida. Baseball, family and even some occasional sun when I wasn’t working and could enjoy it for a moment or two.
Oh, and I got paid to do it all.
Anyone with a son or a daughter knows this much is true: Nothing beats a sunny day at the ballpark with your child. Nothing. It must be the combination of sun, warmth and love. Having a baseball player – his name and years of service don’t matter, if he has a uniform on, he counts – toss a baseball to your child and the ensuing smile from your youngster is just about the best thing you can ever see if you’re a parent.
I had it all last week in Sarasota.
And on top of all of that, the Orioles treated me well.
All of them. I didn’t get the stink-eye from anyone. Then again, I didn’t see “EVERYONE” in the organization…but those that I did come in contact with were extra-special-kind to me.
It’s easy to work in those conditions.
Now it goes without saying that I’m not going to sacrifice my natural “right” to critique the Orioles, both on and off the field. If they do something dumb, like charge people more money for tickets on the day-of-the-game, I’m going to say it was dumb. And if they start off the season 2-16 and essentially throw in the towel, like they did a year ago, I’ll call that one as I see it as well.
Like I’ve said for a long time, when the Orioles do good things, I’ll compliment them. When they do bad things, I’ll be critical of them. It’s no secret the Orioles haven’t liked when I’ve been critical of them, but there’s not much I can do about that. Over the last 8 years that I’ve been with WNST, they’ve done far more bad than good. And I’ve been forced to note that stuff.
But last week in Sarasota, they did a bunch of good things. And I’ve noted those here.
Last week, the Orioles treated me the way I expect to be treated.
Hopefully those of you who paid attention last week saw the effort we put in to bring you the best coverage of the Orioles that you could possibly get. There’s more of that to come as far as I’m concerned.
You saw, for five days anyway, what steps I’ll take to cover the team as long as I’m allowed to do so.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that what transpired in Sarasota is a precursor to the regular season and that I’ll be afforded that same professional courtesy at Camden Yards. I’m hoping I’ll still have that same access to players. I’m hoping to share that with you and everyone else who loves the Orioles. I’m hoping…hoping that for the first time in a long time, listeners of WNST and readers of WNST.net will get in-depth information on the Birds from me…and the rest of the gang at the station.
For a variety of reasons, the 2011 season could be a memorable one for the Orioles. And for WNST.
You know the old saying: Hope springs eternal.