A year ago, Thanksgiving for Oriole fans meant optimism. There were new beginnings. Mike Elias had just been hired as the team’s top baseball executive, and no one knew who he’d select as manager.
Twelve months later, the opinions on Elias are, like his recent hires, more diverse.
Many fans think the Orioles needed to gut their organization and start anew. Others, despite Elias’ warnings, are impatient with the product they saw on the field in 2019.
Elias is trying something new in Baltimore, a reorganization that includes few with longstanding ties to the team, and with past administrations.
Many people with decades of experience in baseball, and with the Orioles, have been displaced. It’s an uncomfortable, uncertain and frightening Thanksgiving for them.
It’s not just the Orioles that are getting younger. Other teams have brought in coaches directly from colleges, private hitting and pitching schools while letting go of many people with vast institutional knowledge.
It will take several years to measure the results of the rebuild. Certainly 2020 might be nearly as uncomfortable to watch as much of 2019 was. But by the end of next season, there should be more players on hand who can help the team get better in 2021 and 2022.
Last Thanksgiving, fans had the players from the recent past to be thankful for. This year, there are some new names, and a few old ones, too.
Be thankful for Trey Mancini, who’s become the franchise’s marquee player, and who was always available when there was a controversial subject to talk about—even his exclusion from the All-Star team.
Mancini has assumed Adam Jones’ role as unofficial team spokesman and is taking steps to become as involved in the community as Jones was.
For years, Jones hosted a pregame charity tailgate before a Ravens game. On Sunday, Mancini will host his first.
While his performance on the field has been disheartening, Chris Davis has become the rare athlete, like Jones, to demonstrate direct involvement in charities.
Davis and his wife, Jill, donated $3 million to the University of Maryland’s Children’s Hospital. With their donation, they hope to encourage other well-off individuals to do the important work of helping improve the health of the region’s children. It’s far from the only nonprofit they’re doing good work with.
The 2019 Orioles featured some others to be thankful for, too.
John Means, who made the All-Star team instead of Mancini, demonstrated excellence on the field and a personality that was upbeat and answers that were insightful off it.
Richard Bleier often combines humor and insight, and after a difficult surgery in 2018, showed some signs of rebounding in 2019.
Dylan Bundy never complains as he tries to work with his third pitching coach in the past four seasons and quietly shows determination and hard work to new pitchers.
The rest of the staff is full of good guys: Shawn Armstrong, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry, Evan Phillips and Dillon Tate, all trying to find their way on to the 2020 Orioles.
David Hess, who left his first start of the season with a no-hitter intact and never won another game, refused to show his frustration.
We’re thankful for all of them.
Hunter Harvey showed glimpses of the dominating pitcher the Orioles drafted six years ago, and that’s something fans can be thankful for.
Branden Kline was the latest native Marylander to pitch for the Orioles, and it was fun to see his friends and family from Frederick experience his joy.
A friend of mine likes to say, “in flux, there is opportunity,” and Hanser Alberto seized that opportunity to hit nearly .400 against left-handers and was the unlikeliest .300 hitter in Orioles history.
Jonathan Villar, who may not be an Oriole for much longer, seized his chance. He’s played in every single Orioles game since he came here in August 2018, and hit for the cycle and stole 40 bases.
There were a lot of good guys among the position players, too: Richie Martin, Renato Nunez, Rio Ruiz and Austin Wynns.
There was the wondrous Stevie Wilkerson, who made a rocky transition to the outfield look exciting, and made an unforgettable late-night appearance as a 16th-inning closer, and he was never shy about it.
In the last few months of the season, Oriole fans had new players to watch. Besides Harvey, there was Anthony Santander, who had a scouting group from the United Kingdom cheering him on from their left-field seats.
Austin Hays made some terrific play in center field, and gave fans hope for 2020. Ryan Mountcastle may be next in line.
Mark Trumbo, who missed nearly all season, gallantly tried to come back from serious knee surgery. He showed young teammates what it takes to rebound from adversity, and the hope here is that whatever’s next for him will bring fulfillment.
The team was led by Brandon Hyde, who in his first season as a major league manager, showed a directness with the press that was much needed and appreciated.
Besides uncertainty for those in baseball looking for their next paycheck, there’s uncertainty down below.
After three decades of faithfully supporting Oriole prospects, Frederick Keys fans in Western Maryland are uncertain if there will be baseball at all in 2021.
Frederick and Hagerstown, a onetime Orioles affiliate, and now a Washington Nationals farm team, could be folded if Major League Baseball’s minor league contraction program is adopted.
We’ve watched baseball in Maryland grow to five teams, and to lose 40 percent of them would be sad and unwise.
In 2020, there are prospects to watch in Frederick, Aberdeen, Bowie and Delmarva. Top draft pick Adley Rutschman, who did not disappoint in his first six weeks as a professional, gets to entertain and impress Oriole fans from afar in 2020.
So do DL Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, and those other talented young pitchers at Bowie and Norfolk.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards was emptier than it ever was in 2019, and that was sad to see for this wonderful park. Attendance might not be any better next season despite the Orioles experimenting with earlier start times and more afternoon games.
Next season will bring more challenges, and more impatience from fans eager to see a contender. If the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl, that impatience from Oriole fans might grow.
My thanks to our editor Jack Gibbons and publisher Steve Cockey for making it easy to write what I think.
And, most important, thanks to you for reading, commenting and complaining. Enjoy the holiday.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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