Calling the Pen: Looking for the good in a bad Orioles team -
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Looking for the good in a bad Orioles team


It was a beautiful Monday evening when my wife, Barb, Katie and I arrived at the Downtown Sailing Center. Katie is a young woman with whom Barb works, and the center provides a sailing experience for those with disabilities. As we started to head toward the dock, one of the leaders told us to turn back toward the pavilion because a storm was coming.

Two miles from the sailing center on Key Highway, the Orioles’ grounds crew was putting the tarp on the field. They had seen the same radar — a quick storm was moving through. A beautiful evening would follow.

After the rain delay, Katie boarded a boat that was big enough for Barb and me to join her, along with another young woman, her mom, a friend, and Stewart, our captain, whose social skills matched those he had for sailing. As we moved around the Inner Harbor, I was reminded of its beauty and vibrancy.

It’s how I feel each time I see Oriole Park, and it’s how Oriole fans were feeling in the early innings against the New York Yankees. The Orioles were playing well, and built a 6-1 lead. It was smooth sailing, so to speak, until the Yankees started to flex their muscles and the Orioles began making mistakes that would lead to a 10-7 defeat.

As frustrated as I was with the poor throws and decisions by the Orioles’ outfielders, my mind kept drifting back to that hour of serenity while on a sailboat in the Inner Harbor. It was punctuated by the joy and gratitude by those who are thankful for the smallest of things.

I began to wonder what I enjoy, or are thankful for, in watching a team that is overmatched by its competition and is compounding that disparity with poor fundamentals. It’s a franchise in transition, which is painful to watch and requires a leap of faith.

And, that’s where I’ll start. I like that the Orioles are trying to build something to last, putting in place a foundation that hasn’t been there for a long time. The Orioles reminded me of Indiana Jones, making it up as they went along with surprising results until their collapse exposed the need to tear down the existing structure.

John and Lou Angelos, who are running the team for their ailing father, Peter, hired Yale grad Mike Elias to oversee the project. He knows scouting and was instrumental in the Astros’ turnaround, so there’s reason to believe he’s the right person for the job. The same with Brandon Hyde, getting his first managerial position after serving alongside the Cubs’ Joe Maddon.

I’m excited about the June 3rd amateur draft and the international signing period in July. Those choices will add definition to Elias’ plan to rebuild from the ground up.

The present team poses a challenge in terms of enjoyment and gratitude. The most basic for me is that we have a team in Baltimore, which I never want to take for granted.

I’ve also liked: the emergence of John Means as a starter; the everyday play of Trey Mancini, the one player who could be starting on another team; the consistency of starter Andrew Cashner, who might be attractive to a contender; the bat speed of Renato Nunez; the all-around play of Rio Ruiz; the athleticism of shortstop Richie Martin; the hitting approach of Dwight Smith Jr.; the progress of Stevie Wilkerson; the passion of Pedro Severino and Hanser Alberto; the re-emergence of Dylan Bundy.

I was fortunate to start my relationship with the Orioles in 1966, when they won their first of three world championships. From 1966-1971, they were the best franchise in baseball. Other teams were trying to do things the Oriole Way. Players such as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich had to wait their turn to make the major league club because there was so much talent.

This team has role players playing starting roles while those with promise in the minors build their own foundations before taking the next step. There’s a method to what Elias is doing, there is an increased reliance on analytics, and there is a commitment to the international market.

On Monday night, I didn’t expect to be on a sailboat with Barb and Katie. It was an unexpected gift, for which I was grateful. But my gratitude and joy didn’t match those who never seem to complain or criticize.

It’s a beautiful lens through which to see life. Or a bad baseball team that is working to get better.



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