Upbeat Orioles expect a different kind of spring
And now, for something completely different: The Baltimore Orioles 2010 spring training camp.
Not only have the Orioles moved across the state from their Florida home of 14 years, Fort Lauderdale, but manager Dave Trembley intends to make the workouts in Sarasota more comprehensive than in years past. No longer will Baltimore use youth and inexperience as an excuse for a string of losing seasons that stands at an even dozen.
After two years of rebuilding, it's time for results.
``We're out of Phase 1 and into Phase 2. All of us need to tighten up our belts and be a little more conscientious in our approach and be more accountable for the product that we put on the field,'' Trembley said. ``The way we go about it needs to get better. There needs to be improvement on a more consistent basis from everybody, and I think we have enough guys that we'll do that.''
When pitchers and catchers take the field Thursday for the first practice, the focus will be on assembling a team that can contend for the AL East title. Making the task easier is the fact that the Orioles finally will have all their major and minor leaguers at one complex.
``There will be a better sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie. There won't be a separation,'' Trembley said. ``It won't be the big leagues in Fort Lauderdale and the minor leagues in Sarasota. It will just be the Baltimore Orioles.''
The move to Sarasota will be particularly helpful when the Orioles begin their exhibition schedule on March 3. While in Fort Lauderdale, the Orioles were the southernmost team in Florida and needed to travel an hour to the nearest big league camp.
``It's a big upgrade for us. We're just immeasurably better off as it relates to the facilities, the amount of fields at our disposal, the travel that our team has and community that we're in,'' said Andy MacPhail, president of baseball operations. ``I just think we're better off in just about everything.''
Especially when the games start.
``The schedule is a lot more conducive to getting time on the field. We won't be on the bus every day at 7:30 in the morning and just basically going to a place, showing up and taking batting practice and playing,'' Trembley said. ``If there is a guy in the minor league camp we need to look at, we just bring him over and put him in a game or bring him over to work out with us that day. It's a real nice situation for everybody. There will be a lot more baseball and a lot less travel.''
There also will be far fewer job openings. MacPhail filled several broad holes during the offseason by signing free agent third baseman Miguel Tejada, first baseman Garrett Atkins and closer Mike Gonzalez. MacPhail also got starting pitcher Kevin Millwood in a trade with Texas.
Add those four to a youthful roster that features Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and a host of pitchers with potential, and it's no wonder the Orioles enter camp with uncharacteristic - and maybe even justified - optimism.
``First of all, I'm excited for the team. I think overall, we're as talented as anyone,'' Gonzalez said. ``I keep saying, last year when we (the Braves) came to play the Orioles, these guys were exciting and fun to watch. But they were young. The starting rotation took its lumps last year, but now it's time to get it done.''
No more excuses. The Orioles finished 64-98 in 2009, but MacPhail expects things to be different this season.
``Last year we showed individual progress and promise,'' MacPhail said. ``People got their expectations or hopes up because they could see young, talented players. That did not manifest itself in victories.
``Our job in the offseason was, let's take these young kids and surround them with quality veterans that can help them grow and take some of the weight off them,'' he said. ``Now it's time for us to grow as a team, and to show that we can move the needle as a team as it relates to wins and losses. We need to collective progress, where to this point we've shown individual progress.''
There are questions that still must be answered. Can Tejada make the switch from shortstop to third? Can Atkins bounce back from an awful season that cost him a starting job in Colorado? Can Koji Uehara return from injury to pitch effectively in the bullpen?
Most importantly, can young hurlers Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Jason Berken, Chris Tillman and Dave Hernandez continue to make progress?
``You're not going to win in any division without pitching. If you can build it through your own system, then you're a step ahead,'' Millwood said. ``It's going to be a lot cheaper and you have control of your guys for a lot longer. Getting it done the way they're getting it done is definitely the way to go.''
And now, it's time to see the results.