Rich Dubroff joined BaltimoreBaseball.com as Orioles beat writer last July, just in time to report on the team’s flurry of trades that marked the beginning of its massive rebuilding project. He took time out from his busy schedule to provide readers with an inside look of what it’s like to cover the Orioles in spring training.
Question: You mentioned that you get up at 5:30 in the morning so you can walk, and think, before another day of spring training coverage. Can you describe your routine?
Answer: Access to the Orioles’ clubhouse begins at 8, so I get up 2 ½ hours before, walk for a little over an hour behind the Ringling Museum of Art, eat a quick breakfast, shower and leave for the ballpark. It’s less than 15 minutes away. The clubhouse is generally open for an hour for interviews, and I participate in group interviews for the obvious stories, and try to interview at least two other players for work on my own.
From 9-to-10, I work on stories and answer reader comments, and then from 10-to-12 or so watch workouts. Then we talk to Brandon Hyde and go back in the clubhouse.
Sometimes, I’ve been done by 2, and sometimes not until 4 or 4:30 if news comes up.
Once the games start, I won’t be done until 5:30 or so.
Q: In a number of your stories, players have described a positive vibe at camp. What is your observation?
A: Many of the players are young, some in their first spring training with the Orioles, some in their first major league spring training, and the others are experiencing a new manager.
Hyde has music played in camp, which never happened under Buck Showalter, and the players seem to like it. He’s younger , and closer to their age, and that helps, too.
Q: You also wrote that the live batting practice this early was different than in the past camps. What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed so far between this year and last?
A: Drills are quicker. In the first few days when pitchers threw bullpen, as many as six pitchers threw simultaneously rather than three under Showalter. The bullpen sessions, which often seemed interminable, were over in half the time.
Hyde uses the stadium in addition to the back fields for drills, and he moves around a lot. He delegates running drills to his coaches more than Showalter did.
On Thursday, he introduced a drill where four fielders participate in a throwing relay, and it was interesting to hear him instructing the players. It was certainly a different tone than Showalter used.
Q: What are you looking for each day to share with readers? How will that change when the Grapefruit League starts on Saturday?
A: Early in camp, I want to introduce readers to some of the players they’re not familiar with—or less familiar than the regulars: Mike Yastrzemski, Ryan Mountcastle and Eric Young Jr. I try and combine that with updates on players they know more about: Alex Cobb and Chris Davis.
When the games start, there will still be feature stories and news, but they’ll concentrate more on what jobs are to be decided. I’ll write about the performances in the games, and not the games themselves because there’s absolutely nothing in Grapefruit League games that resembles regular-season games.
Regulars leave after three at-bats or five innings at first. Late-inning relievers pitch in the third, fourth or fifth innings so they can face regulars, and a game can end in a tie because games won’t last past 10 innings.
Q: Did you have preconceived ideas about how first-year manager Brandon Hyde would run camp? And, has anything surprised you about his approach?
A: One of the most intriguing things to me was how Hyde would interact. I truly had no idea. He seems relaxed in dealing with the players and the media. After the first 10 days, I’d say he’s been good at answering questions and providing solid, detailed answers.
Q: Have you ever covered a camp in which so many positions seemed to be up in the air? Does that make it more interesting?
A: This is certainly a unique camp. New general manager, manager and players who are unproven to them. Once the games begin, it will be fascinating to follow the decision-making process since I have no idea what will appeal to Hyde and general manager Mike Elias.
Q: Hyde mentioned a spring in the players’ steps. Does the competition seem to be producing more energy?
A: Since there aren’t many veterans in camp, the players know they have to prove themselves. Chris Davis, Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini are assured of jobs, and it’s likely that Cedric Mullins is, too, but I have no idea who the other infielders will be, who the catchers are, and what the bullpen other than Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier will look like.
Q: Besides the weather, what is the best part about covering spring training?
A: The weather has been extremely warm, and that’s nice, and I always must remember to wear sunblock. I enjoy seeing baseball again after several months without it, and it’s fun getting to know the new players on the team and catching up with some of the older ones.
When there’s time, there are some group dinners with the other writers. Over the years, some of us have grown close, and it’s good to catch up with them, too.
Q: What is the most challenging part?
A: In previous years, there were some easy stories. Adam Jones and Manny Machado arriving in camp were also obvious stories, especially when they showed up on different days.
This year, the obvious stories were on the early days of Elias and Hyde, and of course, Chris Davis’ arrival.
One thing that’s often challenging to me is the difficulty of keeping up with what’s going on in other camps. I don’t want to spend every waking hour on baseball even though I love it, but with being so engrossed in the Orioles, it’s hard to really follow goings-on in the sport other than the big stories such as Machado signing with the San Diego Padres.
Q: Do you think fans will enjoy watching this team?
A: This is going to be a challenging year for the Orioles, and for the fans. If they play well fundamentally and Cobb and Dylan Bundy have bounce-back years, they could be a bit better than I think.
But, even if the team is fundamentally sound, it’s generally not fun watching a team that could lose 100 or more games again.
Fans are going to need patience because progress may not be measurable for two more years—or even longer.
Editor’s Note: A week before Thanksgiving, Rich Dubroff went to hear Jane Leavy talk about her new book about Babe Ruth, The Big Fella. Afterward, he was hit by a car that was turning into a pizza parlor. Thankfully, the leg that absorbed most of the contact wasn’t broken, and Rich was able to write his story. The Big Fella would’ve been proud. We’re thankful to have Rich covering the Orioles for BaltimoreBaseball.com.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] and [email protected] for consideration.