Orioles prepare for Sarasota; Remembering Mel Antonen; Alberto signs with Royals - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles prepare for Sarasota; Remembering Mel Antonen; Alberto signs with Royals

Now that February is here, spring training is right around the corner. Oriole pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida on February 16th.

In his video conference call on Wednesday, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that the Orioles are preparing for start of camp as they normally would despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Trucks carrying the team’s equipment left for Sarasota on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s having a lot of impact,” Elias said. “We’re still building a roster and the depth that we would want with the expectation that we’re going to have a really, really long, if not a completely full, season this year.

“I think it’s going to be way, way, way different than last year. All indications right now is that we’re starting major league spring training on time.”

There were reports Sunday that Major League Baseball has proposed a 154-game season, starting a month late.  There would be expanded playoffs, a universal designated hitter and a November World Series. The Players Association is discussing the proposal.

One difference this year is the MLB will limit the number of players in camp to fewer than 75.

That’s important because teams import players from minor league camp for Grapefruit League games.

Last year, teams had a 60-man player pool. In the case of injury or illness, players could be summoned. For the first two weeks of the season, 30 players were on the active roster. After that, teams used 28. For road trips, taxi squads — which were initially thee players, including a catcher — traveled. Late in the season, taxi squads were increased to five players.

“Minor league spring training and the minor league season will likely be delayed because we’re going to run those spring trainings concurrently just for space reasons at the complexes, but we’re expecting to play a full season or darn near a full season,” Elias said.

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Last year, the Orioles played 60 games, 40 against the four other American League East teams and 20 against the five National League East teams to reduce travel during the pandemic.

When the virus struck the Miami Marlins and left them unable to play, the schedule was rearranged. The Orioles played two home games against the New York Yankees that weren’t not previously scheduled and then four games at home when the Marlins were able to field a team.

With the return of coast-to-coast travel, those fixes might not be so easy. The NBA has had a number of postponements, but they set only the first half of their abbreviated 72-game season in advance, knowing they’d have to make adjustments.

“We see the reports,” Elias said. This is a global pandemic and there are things evolving every day. That could change. I think we’re going to have a really long, representative baseball season that’s going to require pitching and injury depth and Triple-A depth like a normal year, so we’re proceeding with those expectations.”

Remembering Mel Antonen: After suffering from health issues for the past year, longtime baseball writer Mel Antonen died late Saturday at 64.

Antonen was best known for his 24-year-stint as a national baseball writer at USA Today. For the last decade, he appeared on MASN TV and wrote for MASNSports.com.

He was a friend to many of us in the Baltimore-Washington area and was a perceptive writer on local and national baseball. But what stood out to me was that he was different from any of us—in a good way.

Almost everyone who covers sports and, in particular, baseball in this area is either from here or from another large metropolitan area. Mel was from Lake Norden, South Dakota, a hamlet of about 500 people, some four hours west of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Antonen was a fine baseball player. His father, Ray, was a huge force in South Dakota amateur baseball for many years, and father and son are in the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

You don’t meet many people from South Dakota, and it was refreshing to hear s Mel’s perspective about the game growing up. If he wanted to go to a Minnesota Twins game, it was a 12-hour day.

His father often took Antonen out of school and drove to Bloomington Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands.

Mel went to Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and worked for several years for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. In 1981, he covered his first of thousands of big league ball games.

It was sad not seeing Mel at the ballpark last summer, but our spirits soared when he appeared on Zoom calls. He wrote movingly about his battle with Covid-19 and snagged an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, and a huge baseball fan.

A longtime friend, Peter Schmuck, the recently retired Baltimore Sun sports columnist, wrote in a text chain to some of Antonen’s friends: “Mel was a mild mannered guy, but when it came time to fight the greatest battle of his life, he was tough as nails, unwaveringly optimistic and unbelievably courageous. We’re all better for knowing him and now pray for the comfort of [wife] Lisa, [son] Emmett and the rest of his family. God bless them every one.”

Alberto is a Royal: Hanser Alberto, who played the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Orioles, signed a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. The infielder, who was the team’s starting second baseman last season, was not offered a contract on December 2nd. He’ll receive $1.65 million if he makes the team with a potential $350,000 in bonuses.

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