Calling the Pen: Oriole pitchers and catchers report but it feels off-base -

Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Oriole pitchers and catchers report but it feels off-base

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

So the sun, which has taken time off, and Oriole pitchers and catchers, who have been off for even longer, are expected to be back today. By this afternoon, the sun should be shining here, and in Sarasota, Florida, where the Orioles gather for spring training.

It would seem to be a time to escape the gloomy, gray days of February, as hope springs eternal. But that sense of excitement is still missing.

The pandemic overtook it last spring, when Major League Baseball shut down its game on March 12th and eventually settled on a 60-game season without fans. The minor leagues never did get restarted, so a number of the Orioles’ prospects ended up at the alternate site in Bowie, where they did their best to stay competitive. Still, the lack of a minor league season seemed particularly detrimental to the Orioles because their future depends on the development of many of those players.

Now, after a season that we watched from a distance, like everything else, baseball is back and intent on playing 162 games. The Orioles even announced on Friday that they will let some fans — 25 percent capacity — attend Grapefruit League games at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. With the arrival of more vaccines, there is hope that things will get better throughout the season to the point where the environment will be more like 2019 than 2020.

It would be wonderful if that were to happen because we observed last year that the games are not the same without fans. Without their response to spectacular plays, timely hits, sizzling fastballs and failed strategies. Without their passion for a game that seems slow at times but requires exceptional hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Without their loyalty to the home team no matter the performance.

When baseball came back last season, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing. Pro sports require so many health resources during Covid-19 that it seemed they should be going to those more in need. But sports also provide entertainment during a time when we need it, a distraction from the everyday issues and isolation.

I watched the Dodgers win the World Series, noting that the best team won in a season when there was thought that anything could happen. I enjoyed watching the promise of Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Dean Kremer and Tanner Scott.

In 1966, when the Orioles had traded for Frank Robinson, he slammed a double in his first spring training at-bat. It was a sign of what was to come during a season when he won the Triple Crown and the Orioles won their first world championship.

I felt connected to the Orioles as a high school sophomore, a feeling that never left me during that magical season that concluded with a four-game sweep of the Sandy Koufax-led Dodgers.


I’m a long way from high school and feel a similar distance from the Orioles and baseball as spring training begins. They’re a long way from the quality of the 1966 team, but I also think the pandemic has contributed to making the game less personal, something baseball desperately needs as owners and players reflect the divide that exists in so many other areas of our life.

Let’s hope for brighter days and that baseball would find a way to reconnect with those who feel socially distanced from it. Maybe those feelings will warm up again as spring turns to summer and baseball and its fans are reunited.

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’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] for consideration.



  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 16, 2021 at 8:53 am

    You’re very good Jack. I always enjoy your stuff. You seem to have that romantic connection to the game.

    • Jack Gibbons

      February 16, 2021 at 9:05 am

      Thank you, Ken. I appreciate your passion for the Orioles and how much you contribute to the site with your comments.

  2. CalsPals

    February 16, 2021 at 9:29 am

    Perfect snowy day for this article Jack, you do a great job of painting pictures with your words…here’s to pitchers & catchers reporting…go O’s…

    • Jack Gibbons

      February 16, 2021 at 10:03 am

      Thank you, Ray.

  3. CalsPals

    February 16, 2021 at 9:35 am

    Darren O’Day in pinstripes, c’mon man…go O’s…go O’s…

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 16, 2021 at 9:41 am

      Say it ain’t so … Ray.

    • CalsPals

      February 16, 2021 at 9:59 am

      Wish it wasn’t, at 38 I’m guessing he didn’t have many choices, but still…go O’s…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 16, 2021 at 11:18 am

        “but still” …. that about sums it up ,,,

  4. Phil770

    February 16, 2021 at 9:48 am

    Great insight, Jack. That personal connection is essential. Spring training has traditionally been a source of hope and promise, literally signaling cabin fever will be ending soon. Not so much this year, yet. Spring training often provides pleasant surprises. A reason to be hopeful. Thanks again.

    • Jack Gibbons

      February 16, 2021 at 10:05 am

      Thank you, Phil.

  5. dlgruber1

    February 16, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    Jack, you touched on the minors and I gotta say, for me personally, I missed that more than the O’s. Let’s face it, the O’s weren’t going to contend and they have some very good prospects to watch coming up. I’m looking VERY forward to hopefully seeing Rutschman, and if I’m really lucky, Rodriguez play at Harrisburg this year. Always enjoy reading your columns. They often take me back to the glory days.

    • Jack Gibbons

      February 16, 2021 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks for your encouragement, dl. Don’t like living in the past, but I do enjoy revisiting those days.

  6. cedar

    February 16, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    Jack, another thing I missed last season was reading your columns. Thanks for another well written piece that speaks from your heart to ours about this game we love.

    • Jack Gibbons

      February 16, 2021 at 11:33 pm

      Cedar, Thank you for your kind words. It is a game I love in spite of its flaws. It’s human.

  7. geevee3

    February 16, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks Jack,
    As a ten year old living in South Jersey I remember seeing a picture of Frank Robinson sliding into 3rd base in my local paper in April of 1966. Having been born in Baltimore I decided on the spot that Frank would be my favorite player and the O’s would be my favorite team.
    I chose well.
    My family moved back to Baltimore in June of 1969.
    How fortunate could I be?
    Pitchers and Catchers Report will always be personal and magical.

    • Jack Gibbons

      February 16, 2021 at 11:35 pm

      That’s a great memory, geevee. You did choose well in terms of player and team.

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