O the Pain

February 20, 2008 |

As bad as the Birds have been for the past 10 years, I still get that little twinge of optimism when pitchers and catchers report to Florida. That said (and I’m sure this will come as a big surprise), I’m not optimistic that the 2008 Orioles will give us many compelling story lines. While I don’t fault the team for trading Erik Bedard, he was, for me at least, the primary reason to watch the games last year. When he was on the mound, I was tuned into MASN. I just can’t see my t.v. spending much time on Channel 4 this year.

Unfortunately, with so few on-field matters on which to focus, our attention instead turns once again to the general running of the ball club. This, of course, leads to the subject of the Orioles treatment of various Baltimore media outlets, including WNST. I’ll say this from strictly a fan/listener perspective, as I do not work for WNST and have not had a personal dealing with a member of the Orioles PR/media staff in over eight years: what many people fail to understand is that WNST is forced to chronicle their struggles with gaining media access for two primary reasons: (1) it’s symbolic of the way the team is run as a whole (which has led to dwindling attendance and 10-straight losing seasons) and (2) in the absence of significant baseball-related events, what else is there to talk about?

In other words, if the Orioles were constantly competing for a pennant – or at least playing exciting baseball – WNST would not have the interest or the time to detail their latest stiff-arm from the O’s PR department; they’d be too busy talking about (and receiving phone calls about) the damn games. When was the last time you spent a summer morning debating a co-worker about the third base coach’s decision to send a runner…or the manager pulling the starting pitcher too early…or a rally-killing bad call at first? When the team averages 72 wins a year (as it has since 1998), the intricacies of baseball – the chess match-like managerial moves, the positioning of the fielders vs. each batter’s hitting pattern, pitching from the stretch to hold a speedy runner at first…all the things that make it such a great game – are rendered meaningless.

I took my daughter to her first Orioles game last spring. I would’ve said the most surprising thing about the game was that little Emma made it through all nine innings without asking once to go home, but I was much more shocked by what I saw on the field. The Orioles came into the game having won 11 of their previous 16 games, including a four-game winning streak that was ended the night before by a one-run loss to Oakland when Miguel Tejada grounded out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. So I was excited to catch the game (the 3:05 start was perfect for a young’un), figuring the hot Orioles were looking to avenge the previous night’s loss to the A’s. What I saw was a lethargic team making mental mistake after mental mistake and limping to a lifeless 4-2 loss. Maybe they were experiencing the hangover from the night before’s tough loss; maybe the steroid cloud was already weighing heavily on Tejada, Brian Roberts and others; maybe Sam Perlozzo (who would be fired less than two months later) had officially lost the team by that early point in the season. Whatever the cause, it was simply a bad experience for a lifelong Orioles fan who knows good, fundamental baseball when he sees it. And that’s why we’ve been forced to spend the past decade talking about how poorly the Orioles organization is run, instead of talking about the great game of baseball.

New Terminology = Fewer Injuries?

Interesting comments from Sun columnist Mike Preston in recent days. On two separate occasions, Preston has alluded to the fact the Ravens’ new offense could be very similar to the previous version. In his article about Steve McNair learning new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook, Preston wrote “the major adjustment is the terminology.” A few days earlier, in his column about Todd Heap’s off-season rehabilitation, Preston wrote that Heap, after studying film of the San Diego offense under Cameron, concluded that “the Ravens ran similar plays.”

Both columns also focused on how badly the team was decimated by injuries last season. According to Preston, McNair even went so far as to say that he couldn’t “remember a season when so many fellow starters missed substantial playing time because of injuries.” That’s an interesting comment, considering that I remember reading in the Sun on more than one occasion that injuries were no excuse for the Ravens 5-11 record this past season. But, judging from the Ravens’ offseason moves, the team is apparently banking on the notion that new offensive coaches – with new terminology – will not only lead to a more explosive offense, but will also help the team avoid the injury bug.

While we’re on the subject of Cameron, everyone has made it clear that the Ravens are not getting the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, but instead the former offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Many people have also claimed that the talent level of the Ravens’ offense is similar to what Cameron had to work with in San Diego. Only time will tell, but, put away your purple-colored glasses for a second, and think about which triumvirate you would rather have: Drew Brees/Phillip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates or McNair/Kyle Boller/Troy Smith, Willis McGahee and Heap?

Alexander the Great

Before anyone gets too giddy about the Washington Capitals resurgence (that means you, Drew and Nestor) please remember that their “success” has a lot to do with playing in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. Their 62 points rank 23rd out of 30 NHL teams and would put them in 5th place in both the Atlantic and Northeast Divisions.

That said, Caps forward Alex Ovechkin should be Must-See-TV for any sports fan…that’s right: sports fan, not just hockey fan. Even if you’ve never seen a hockey game in your life, you’ll notice Ovechkin right away – he’s just one of those athletes who seems to move a little faster and a little smoother than everyone else in the game. But what else would you expect from a guy with a mother who was an Olympic basketball player and a father who played soccer professionally?

It’s a few years old now, but Ovechkin has – literally – one of the greatest goals in the history of the sport. You can see it here. (Check out opposing coach Wayne Gretzky catching the replay of the goal on the stadium scoreboard…even The Great One is in disbelief.) Ovechkin has been a great shot-in-the-arm for a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2001 – and if you don’t make the playoffs in the NHL, you’re in, dare I say, Baltimore Orioles territory.