On a club with big expectations, some will experience their 1st Orioles Opening Day - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

On a club with big expectations, some will experience their 1st Orioles Opening Day

Photo Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE—Nearly all the 2023 Orioles are returning in 2024. Opening Day starter Corbin Burnes, closer Craig Kimbrel and utilityman Tony Kemp could be the only players new to the team this season.

However, there are a few players who were with the team last year who are getting ready to experience their first Orioles Opening Day.

“I feel like I’m in a good spot,” said Burnes, who was 45-27 in six seasons with Milwaukee. “These guys accepted me very quickly. It’s easy to see why they did so well last year.”

Last year, they did very well, winning 101 games, their most since 1979, and captured their first American League East championship since 2014. It will be difficult to win as many games and to repeat as AL East champs.

“I don’t feel too underestimated,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “I don’t think we’re underestimated at all. Everybody knows what to expect when the Orioles come into town. They know that we’re a really good team.”

Though the Orioles have 10 players on their roster who are 30 or older, they can’t be classified as an old team, and with so few newcomers, they have unusual stability.

“Our turnaround happened pretty quick,” Hays said. “It happened a little quicker than anybody expected it to. Young players played well and made adjustments fast and instead of having to go out and sign some older players, the younger players came up and filled those roles and became the everyday players right away.

“We had some injuries to our team. We had some spots we needed to fill. We picked one of the best closers of all time and one of the best starting pitchers in the game right now to help us with those two areas we were hurt from last year, so we’re in a really strong spot now.”

One of those young players is Jordan Westburg, who’s only 25 and made his major league debut last June 26th. Westburg, who’ll play second and third and filled in at shortstop in Grapefruit League games, gets to experience his first Orioles opener.

“Very exciting. Danny Coulombe gave me a good tip. He said: ‘Never take them for granted,’” Westburg said. “It’s like comparing it to clinching the postseason. It’s one of those things you don’t know how many times you’re going to be a part of. I’m very thankful. I’m feeling very lucky that I made this club. There’s a lot of competition, a lot of good players who are here and who are not here. I’m going to try to make the most of it.”

The Orioles roll out an orange carpet in center field and Westburg gets to run down it.

“I got to see a lot of my buddies do it last year,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of that this year. I’m just really excited for the city, for the team, for the organization. It’s going to be a fun year.”

This year, most of the Orioles are in the same lockers they were last year. Burnes took over Kyle Gibson’s locker, Kemp is where Ryan McKenna was, and Kimbrel slid into the reliever’s row.

“It’s a comfortable feeling,” Westburg said. “I know I was a little bit scared to be myself last year. I had guys like [Aaron] Hicks right next to my locker and Hays and [Cedric] Mullins. I wanted to make sure I’m staying in my lane and playing my role.

“This year, I feel a little bit more comfortable. I know these guys a little bit more. I think I’ve bonded with a lot more of them and we’re a little bit closer. It makes it fun to be here. It makes it really fun to show up here, even when you’re late in the year and things can get monotonous, I think it keeps it fresh. Guys are always around to make you laugh and make you smile if you’re having a bad day.”

Westburg’s closest friend on the team, outfielder Colton Cowser is going to be the only rookie on the team.

“That’s my guy,” Westburg said. “I was rooting for him all spring. To see the work he was putting in and the intensity he was bringing every single day. He seemed a little more intentional than I’ve ever seen him. To see it work out for him, couldn’t be happier. It gives me another buddy to have in the clubhouse, which is awesome.”

Westburg’s amazed that his buddy is the team’s only rookie.

“It’s insane, right? Crazy that a lot of young guys that came up together are no longer rookies,” Westburg said. “It is a little wild to think about. I’m still a very young guy in this clubhouse, and not be considered rookies is kind of bizarre…Hopefully, they don’t rag on him too much and we can take care of him. He’ll handle it well.”

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