As the Orioles wrapped up spring training in Clearwater, Fla., on Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy (Army) kept the nest warm at Camden Yards.
The Midshipmen made the 30-mile drive north from Annapolis to play in a big league stadium against their arch-rivals Sunday. They had to deal with 40-degree temperatures, a brief snow delay and a Black Knights squad that ultimately swept the doubleheader, 5-3 (in 10 innings) and 8-2 before an announced crowd of 3,221 – mainly a combination of Navy and Army supporters with a smattering of fans in Orioles’ gear mixed in.
To the dismay of the college players, batting practice was kept to the indoor cages beneath the stadium. That meant no one could take aim at the B&O Warehouse beyond right field
According to Navy senior center fielder Logan Knowles, homering in a big league park has crossed the mind of every player. No one went deep, and now Knowles and company will have to wait until April 20 when Army hosts Navy at Boston’s Fenway Park to get their next shot at blasting one out of a major league stadium.
Dressed in all-white baseball uniforms, the Midshipmen did get to go through infield drills Sunday, following in the footsteps of their big league heroes.
“It was just an incredible experience,” Knowles said. “Obviously I’m very grateful for the Orioles to even be out here playing. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t give it a better effort today, but it was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed ourselves.”
A freak snowsquall in the bottom of the sixth caused a 23-minute delay. Each flake grew larger by the second, forcing the umpires to clear the field.
“My main concern was just being able to see the ball,” Knowles said. “I was throwing a couple up there for (right fielder Steve Born) just to see if we could see it. I know we were fine. We were ready to play in it. But, obviously, that’s quite a bit of snow to be coming down.”
Originally slated for seven innings, the opener went 10, thanks to sophomore second baseman Zach Biggers’ clutch RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings.
Following a disappointing 5-3 loss, many of the Navy fans called it a day and bypassed the second game.
Tom Kane and his seven-year-old grandson, Travis, had other ideas.
Tucked away in an empty part of the concourse, they pulled out their gloves and decided to stretch their arms during the intermission.
The family made the trip from Acton, Mass., to support Kane’s son, Jeff – an assistant coach at Navy.
As first pitch grew closer, grandfather and grandson finished with a couple of pop-ups. Travis settled under them like a Gold Glover and secured each catch.
Although Navy (18-8, 4-4 in the Patriot League) lost by six to Army (11-12, 4-0) in the nightcap, Navy Head Coach Paul Kostacopoulos was grateful for the opportunity to play at Camden Yards, and understands the experience is something his players were looking forward to and will never forget.
“The graciousness of the Orioles organization – allowing us to come here and play – that’s not lost on anybody,” Kostacopoulos said.
Sunday’s doubleheader marks the beginning of Navy’s renewed relationship with the Orioles. In August, the Orioles will host a “Celebrate Navy Day” and invite over 1,000 Midshipmen to Camden Yards.
Next offseason, the Orioles will play an exhibition game at Max Bishop Stadium in Annapolis against another MLB team.
In the future, Navy will have access to the Orioles’ spring training/minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla.
“It’s very humbling to be a part of the organization when this happened,” Biggers said. “For us to be able to play (at Camden Yards) and maybe play (the Orioles) down in Florida, it’s an opportunity we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
NOTE: Because of the Orioles’ season opener Thursday, there will not be a College Corner on BaltimoreBaseball.com this week. It will return Thursday, April 5.