When you think about attending an Orioles’ game in mid-September, usually the word excitement doesn’t come to mind, for adults at least. Over the past 14 years, Orioles, fans have gotten used to watching meaningless baseball in the late summer months. It stinks for fans like me, who are in their early to mid-20’s, because we don’t even know what it’s like to go to Camden Yards and watch a playoff game and appreciate the intense atmosphere that goes along with it (I’m sure some of us youngsters were there in 1997 when the O’s last hosted a playoff game, but I’m not sure how much we actually remember of it). And the fans who do remember what it’s like to cheer for a good baseball team may have forgotten because of how long it’s been since they have gotten the chance to do so.
One thing I’ve found out from living in Maryland my entire life is that Baltimore sports fans are as loyal as any fans in the country. Baltimore is a great sports town and has been for a long while. But here lately the only team they have had reason to cheer for is the Ravens because, honestly, the O’s haven’t given fans very much to cheer about over the past 13 years.
But O’s fans are just waiting; patiently I may add, for something to cheer about. I’m certain that if the O’s were anywhere close to being in the playoffs in September, Baltimore would be buzzing and Camden Yards would be packed again like it used to be. The atmosphere around here would be unbelievable because baseball would actually be fun, and not painful, to watch. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty excited about the direction the O’s are going especially with the moves they’ve made so far this off-season.
The front office is finally spending money, and they are doing it in a very smart way. Andy MacPhail realized the team’s greatest asset was a handful of young, good-but-not-great, unproven, hard-throwing middle relievers. So he started shopping his young arms and ended up finding out there was a very strong market for these types of players. Knowing he needed to improve the infield, MacPhail did what any good president of baseball operations would do, traded his young arms for veteran, big-name infielders that would make his team better.
The result was a few moves that gave the O’s infield an upgrade they needed very badly. They traded Kam Mickolio and David Hernandez to the Diamondbacks for first baseman Mark Reynolds and they sent right-handers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey to the Twins for utility man Brendan Harris and shortstop J.J. Hardy, who, believe it or not, had a better 2010 OPS than Derek Jeter. The O’s also signed free agent first baseman Derrek Lee to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million and closer Kevin Gregg to a two-year, $10 million contract. These few moves will certainly make the O’s a much better team in 2011 and should allow them to at least finish over .500 for the first time since 1997. I’m not sure if the postseason is a logical expectation just yet, but there’s no reason why this team can’t be in the playoff mix within the next few years.
The moves the front office made this season are just a start to the Buck Showalter era. Showalter alone is enough for free agents to want to play in Baltimore, but when you combine a great manager with the slew of young arms with a lot of potential and an exceptional group of outfielders; it makes Baltimore an attractive place to play. Despite what some people may think, I believe some free agents would rather come to a team they see is on the brink of being great because they feel like they can be the difference maker that takes that team to the next level. Granted, going to a team like the Red Sox or the Yankees is appealing, but with all the parity in the league over the past few years, almost any team can come out if nowhere and make a surprise run at the postseason. And the O’s are definitely putting themselves in a position to do just that.
But I think this season is just the beginning of good things to come for the Orioles organization. The one area the O’s didn’t address in the off-season was signing a big-time starting pitcher. And while acquiring an ace is one of the biggest moves a club can make in the off-season, I kind of understand why they didn’t go after one. Like I said before, they already have an array of young starting pitchers including Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen and Zach Britton, who I expect to be called up sometime this season. Most of these guys, with the exception of Britton of course, pitched a decent amount of innings last season and continued to get their feet wet while learning what it’s like to pitch on the big league level. This season will provide them with even more experience and should hopefully put them in position to become a solid starting staff in the near future.
I truly believe that out of the guys I just mentioned, the O’s have the core of their future starting rotation. So if this season’s rotation can pitch well enough to help their finish over. 500 and somewhere close to third in the AL East, they won’t have any problem acquiring a big time free agent starting pitcher or even a perennial 40-plus home run, 120-plus RBI slugger next off-season. I know it’s going to take some time to build a championship-caliber team, but the O’s look like they are well on their way to bringing the excitement back to Baltimore baseball.
Submitted by Steve Giles