Orange fireworks: Players and Trembley flip Peter Angelos “The Bird” today in The Sun

April 03, 2009 | Nestor Aparicio

I’ve been saying for years that Fort Lauderdale Stadium and the Orioles’ sub-par Florida spring training situation is by far the biggest sin of all of their many sins and finally the folks over on Calvert Street are doing some “investigative journalism” with the orange birds. The club’s No. 1 promise to the public is that it’s doing everything possible to commit all of its resources to fielding a winning team.

That’s the goal in baseball: winning a championship. You always want to give your team the best chance to compete.

The Angelos family hasn’t done that for the entire tenure of their ownership in regard to the significance of spring training as anything more than a line item expense. The mere fact that they’re the only organization in the sport to have “two camps” in Florida that sit three hours apart is telling enough. It’s bad business. It’s bad baseball. It’s just inexcusable, unacceptable and dumb.

Fort Lauderdale Stadium is a dump. It’s a disgrace. It’s been a disgrace for the entire balance of the 15 years they’ve played there. I’ve worked many, many a morning and pulled many 12-hour days at Fort Lauderdale Stadium doing radio and covering baseball back when I was a “real” media member. I’ve spent 100 days of my life at that facility over the years before the team banned me from having a press credential.

Most of the fans here in Baltimore never make it there and it’s not like the team does anything to market having fans come south with their off season efforts. So it kinda goes unnoticed and when I bitch about it – and again, I think it’s probably the most obvious and lousy “white elephant” of all of their many sins – the fans don’t really care or “get it” but it’s so bizarre and so blatantly “bush league” in the eyes of anyone who knows anything about baseball from management to players to coaches to the locker room attendants that it defies description.

Just the mere fact that the visiting teams come in and see the situation and don’t lay down negative comments day after day is astonishing. Apparently, according to The Sun, the situation over at the minor-league camp is even worse. I haven’t personally been to Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota since 1995. It was “amateur” then, but not in disrepair. It was “minor league” but it wasn’t “unsafe” as several of the opposing teams indicated in contacting MLB and refusing to schedule games against the Orioles farmhands.

But the quotes in The Sun aren’t from Nestor. Or Drew Forrester. Or the glowing crap you’ll hear on MASN from Jim Hunter, Fred Manfra and the “boys club” who all take their paychecks from Peter Angelos.

They’re from the players themselves, who also take their paychecks from Peter Angelos. And it’s precisely these types of stories that makes Angelos ban a guy like me from having access. Because the players would be talking my ear off to get their message heard in the public eye.

Today’s whoppers and haymakers from their best people and players are “instant classics” and are sure to have the Angelos family in “flip out” mode on this Friday before Opening Day. It’s almost like all of the players just got together and decided to give the team’s ownership a rectal examination of unprecedented proportions.

This morning, it’s like Brian Roberts, Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Dave Trembley and Jake Arrieta are on the front page of the local newspaper wearing FREE THE BIRDS shirts!

Here come the quotes:

Dave Trembley: “I think we’ve finally reached the point where it’s fish or cut bait. We’re in the business of developing players. What would enhance that development is a facility that is more conducive to us all being all together and being on an even playing field with the other clubs.”

Brian Roberts: “I think most of us would be lying if we said this is what any of us would expect from a major league organization.”

Aubrey Huff: “When you have a big-league team that has a weight tent with rented weight equipment located in the parking lot, that’s pretty sad.”

Melvin Mora: “That’s the worst field I’ve ever played on in my life and I’m from Venezeula.”

Chris Ray: “I don’t know what to say about the facility other than that it just needs to be leveled and rebuilt. It’s a shame. You draft someone, hype them up and then they go to that facility and they’re like, ‘Wow.’ I think that’s a little bit embarrassing.”

Jake Arrieta: “We’re all very blessed to be in the situations that we’re in, but it also comes with the territory that you expect to have nice facilities to work out in. Not that we’re tired of Twin Lakes, but I all think we deserve something better.”

And here is my favorite, from a minor-league farmhand named Mike Costanzo, who was given the “Nestor treatment” by the franchise: “We were told to not say anything about the field, but if nobody says anything, it’s never going to get fixed. It’s tough to get quality work in here.”

I guess Nick Markakis must’ve been in the shower or “unavailable for comment” on this one.

Costanzo’s quote is almost poignant to me because that’s EXACTLY what FREE THE BIRDS was all about.

“If nobody says anything it’s never going to get fixed.”

It almost brings a tear to my eyes. I’m a BIG Mike Costanzo fan all of a sudden. I’ll be monitoring that young man, who showed some big-league bravery for that quote but will undoubtedly be in the corporate “doghouse” for life after that one.

Aside from being quality journalism by Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly, it’s the kind of story in this economy that will piss off Angelos so much that you might even see the fireworks ads get pulled from the May editions. Mr. Angelos reads The Sun every day and will be ripe and randy today, no doubt about it.

I can hear him now…

“The insubordination. These ungrateful millionaires. How dare they speak this way about our franchise to the media!”

There’s one thing Peter Angelos hates the most and that’s hearing the unfiltered truth about how bad this franchise is in so many ways in print or in the media. Seeing his highest-paid employees flipping him the bird in the morning fishwrap – well, that’s gonna make for an interesting weekend.

Of course, Angelos and his son John declined to speak about the “Fort Lauderdale situation” in the media.

The worst part are the paper-thin and almost silly quotes from Orioles spokeperson and huge WNST fan, Greg Bader, who knows less about P.R. than any P.R. person I’ve seen in 25 years of doing journalism for a living.

Now, apparently, a baseball expert and groundskeeper, Bader officially deemed the field in Sarasota “perfectly safe and adequate” after a handful of visiting MLB teams refused to show up and play games there.

I’ve only met Greg Bader twice, but my guess is that he never played an inning of baseball in his life. Or pitched on unmeasured mounds? Or caught a two-hopper after it hits a rock in the dirt? Or had to work out to get into shape for a 162-game Major League grind that baseball demands.

(As an aside, the first thing I learned when I began doing sports radio in 1992 and hanging around baseball players was how HARD the job was. As a kid it sounds like a fun gig, but being a Major League Baseball player is HARD, HARD work. These guys make millions of dollars and if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Baseball players live pretty difficult, complex lives from April 1st through October 1st. I have great respect for the work they do, which can only come when you see it first hand.)

Bader also said the club has “always had the urgency” to find a new home. That is just a stupid, silly thing to say. Urgency? They’ve had 15 years and roughly 80 percent of the MLB teams in South Florida have relocated or found better situations since the Orioles landed in Fort Lauderdale by sheer accident in 1996, after going several years in weird and bad situations in Miami and St. Petersburg.

They’ve been offered at least five sites that I can think of over the years – from Sarasota to Orlando to Vero Beach to Jupiter to Winter Haven — and have never done anything to rectify the combination of the major and minor league camps, which should have been done in 1997 or 1998 at the latest. No other team would DREAM of having a split camp and say they’re serious about a winning organization. It’s just unconscionable.

The 2009 season has already gotten off to a rocky, rocky start.

They have absolutely zero starting pitching. Jeremy Guthrie has been dreadful. Koji Uehera certainly bears watching but the rest of the retreads from Adam Eaton to Mark Hendrickson to Rich Hill to Danys Baez to the soon-to-be-celebrated Alfredo Simon are just arsonists of varying degrees at this point.

Brian Roberts isn’t healthy.

They’re still banning free speech in the media and being miserable and unprofessional to deal with at every level.

And now, every level of their organization from manager to players to minor leaguers are popping off in the morning newspaper about how “bush league” their ownership is in regard to spring training and a commitment to winning. It’s like a scene out of “Major League” but the Orioles have become the Indians.

Next Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay still doesn’t have a starting time and the Ravens are expecting 20,000 people at M&T Bank Stadium that morning and afternoon for an Inside Lacrosse doubleheader and no one in the city knows what the parking situation might be. The game is eight days away. You’d think they’d announce to the Tampa Rays, their season ticket holders and their employees when the game will be played. (Again, this kind of management is just unheard of in professional sports in 2009.)

Oh, and the Yankees are bringing 30,000 obnoxious fans into town on Opening Day to cheer for Baltimore’s greatest homegrown player in a generation as he takes the field at Camden Yards wearing pinstripes.

Oh, and advance ticket sales have been abysmal and they’re having a “Fan Fest” tomorrow that feels like a rumor around town.

Other than that, things are just fine in Birdland.

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