Today is Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles, the start of a new season, and a chance for the team’s loyal fans to hope for a better result than the 14 losing seasons in a row they have suffered through. Opening day is a day of hope, confidence, and bravado. Every team is undefeated. No one is in last place. No batters have struck out, and no pitchers have given up the long ball. The managers’ decisions have yet to be scrutinized, and the batting order has yet to be questioned. It’s the only day of the year that no team is the laughing stock of their division. After surviving the winter by over-analyzing every hot stove roster transaction, and watching this year’s team come together in Spring Training, every baseball fan loves the excitement and anticipation of Opening Day!
The Baltimore Orioles enjoyed a long tradition of success, being one of Major League Baseball’s winningest teams from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, boasting Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., and legendary manager Earl Weaver, and making the World Series in 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, and 1983, winning in ’66, ‘70, and ‘83.
After a dismal 1988 season, an exciting young O’s team in a new uniform design took the league by storm, spending most of the year in first place, just barely losing the AL East Pennant to the Toronto Blue Jays in the final series of the season. In 1992, the Orioles rewarded their loyal fans by opening the beautiful retro ballpark Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the revitalized Inner Harbor area, the standard of excellence many future parks were modeled after. But in 1993 the Peter Angelos ownership regime began, signaling the beginning of the end of The Oriole Way.
The Orioles contended throughout the early 1990’s, achieving 3rd place in ’92 and ’93, 2nd place in ’94, and 3rd again in ’95. Also in 1995, in the team’s last shining moment, Orioles’ great Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak of 2130, reigniting the passion of baseball fans everywhere, bringing them back from the sour aftertaste of the 1994 labor strike.
In 1996, under brilliant manager Davey Johnson, The Birds returned to the Playoffs after a 12-year absence, winning the Wild Card and defeating the Cleveland Indians in the Divisional Series. The O’s lost the ALCS to their Division rival the New York Yankees. The team never seemed to recover from young fan Jeffery Maier’s interference with outfielder Tony Tarasco’s ability to catch a Derek Jeter fly ball that was mistakenly called a homerun, only winning one more game in the series.
In 1997, the Orioles held first place wire to wire, winning the AL East Pennant, and defeating the Seattle Mariners in the Divisional Series. Unfortunately, that was the team’s last moment of success. They lost the ALCS to the underdog Cleveland Indians 4-2, losing each game by only one run. Manager of the Year winner Johnson resigned due to conflict with overbearing owner Angelos and the once proud franchise spiraled into irrelevance.
In the following 14 seasons, Baltimore has had a revolving door of GM’s, managers, and players, never winning more than 79 games in a season, only finishing higher than 4th place once during that time period. Orioles fans are tired of a constantly regressing rebuilding process, lackluster free agent signings, poorly scouted draftees, a ballpark filled with opposing teams’ fans, and uncaring ownership. But those of us who truly love the team will keep watching the games regardless.
This year’s Orioles club is full of question marks and potential. Can young pitcher Jake Arrieta be the team’s ace? Can the other starters and the bullpen pitch consistently enough to keep the O’s promising offense in games? Will prospects like Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Nolan Reimold finally translate their potential into Major League success? Can Jim Johnson stay healthy long enough to be the team’s closer? Will 2nd baseman Brian Roberts ever play again? Can Nick Markakis bounce back from last year’s disappointing stats? Will bright spots Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy continue to mature into stars? Is there enough talent on this year’s team to keep the fans hoping for success? Will exciting pitchers Tsuyoshi Wada and Zack Britton return from injury and make the starting rotation? Will the decision to trade away and release their two most consistent pitchers of recent years, Jeremy Guthrie and Alfredo Simon, come back to haunt them? You tell me. Here’s this year’s Opening Day roster:
1B Chris Davis
2B Robert Andino
3B Mark Reynolds
SS J.J. Hardy
C Matt Wieters
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
LF Nolan Reimold
DH Wilson Betemit
Bench: Ronny Paulino, Ryan Flaherty, Nick Johnson, Endy Chavez
Rotation: Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz
Bullpen: Luis Ayala, Kevin Gregg, Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Darren O’Day, Troy Patton, Pedro Stropp
Can the 2012 Baltimore Orioles break the franchise’s losing ways? Can they finish above .500 for the first time since 1997? Can this young team last through an entire season of the rigors of the Major Leagues and the warzone of the AL East? Only time will tell, but true fans will have fun watching and hoping, through the wins and losses, the ups and downs.
It’s Opening Day, sit back, root for your favorite team, and enjoy the game, because for this one moment they’re undefeated.
©2012 Denim McDemus