Daniel Clark: Following the Orioles from Melbourne, Australia

Fresh from a long offseason in which Orioles fans experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, the 2014 regular season has finally commenced. Lead by impressive performances from Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones and Zach Britton, it started on a positive note after a thrilling win against the American League East rival Boston Red Sox on Monday afternoon at Camden Yards.

The season which awaits Orioles fans is set to be full of excitement - and hopefully a return to the playoffs. From a personal perspective, the season also provides me with an opportunity to contribute to MASNsports.com for the first time. In fact, this is the first time MASNsports.com will have a regular contributor from overseas.

Having lived in Melbourne, Australia, all my life, like most young Australian males, football (Australian Rules) and cricket were my two sports of choice growing up. In 2009, due to a series of injuries sustained whilst playing football, I decided to play baseball with some friends and one of the first clubs I played with was the Blackburn Orioles. At the time, I enjoyed watching Major League Baseball; however, I had no real allegiance to a team. As such, playing for the Orioles was the catalyst to follow the Baltimore Orioles.

In the years since, my love for the sport as a player, fan and writer has increased dramatically. So much so that baseball is now, and will likely remain, my true sporting passion. My level of interest in the Orioles is bordering on obsessive and I proudly admit watching/listening to every Orioles game, be it during spring training, the regular season or the postseason.

Keeping up to date with the Orioles is a difficult task when you’re 10,201 miles away (yes, I researched that) and it regularly leaves me feeling exhausted. For those unaware, when the Orioles play at 7:05 p.m., Eastern time, that’s 9:05 a.m. the following day in my part of the world. This time slot suits me well, as I spend most of my workday in the office, so I simply put the earphones in and listen. The difficulty arises when the Orioles play day games, or moreso when they play a few in a row. Take, for example, April 4-8 this year when they play five consecutive day games. This means a 3 a.m. wake-up on five consecutive days in my part of the world!

Regardless of the difficulties, I love watching them play and when they win, it’s certainly worth the effort.

Whilst on the subject of winning, I look forward to providing a weekly piece on the Orioles in 2014 and I’m confident they’re set for another winning season. The lineup from one to nine looks fantastic and is full of power, speed and the ability to score many runs. This year, the pitching staff also looks to have improved. The starting rotation, lead by Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, looks steady and with an increased level of consistency from Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-yin Chen and Bud Norris, the five starters should keep the Orioles in the contest deep into games. The bullpen is full of hard-throwing pitchers who have all performed well in the majors. There really is a lot to like about this Orioles team.

Each season I like to highlight a few key players to look out for and this year I’ve chosen Ryan Flaherty, Zach Britton and Jonathan Schoop.

Flaherty finished off 2013 well after a disastrous start and he also looked good throughout spring training. He’s a high-quality infielder and a capable bat, and I’m expecting 2014 will be his breakout year. Britton has struggled to find consistency as a starter in the past, however looked dominant in relief throughout spring and on opening day. A big lad with plenty of power, I think he’ll be a valuable addition to the Orioles bullpen. Lastly, I expect to see big things from Schoop in 2014. He had a fantastic spring and despite the initial hesitance from many baseball pundits, there’s no doubt that his performances led to him breaking camp with the club. In his five appearances in 2013, he hit .286 and he added another hit to that on opening day. There’s no doubt that he has proven himself ready to succeed at the highest level.

My articles for MASNsports.com in 2014 will reflect my opinions, however they’ll also be well justified with supporting statistics. Of course, I welcome your feedback and look forward to interacting with the Birdland community this season.

Daniel Clark blogs about the Orioles at The Big Leagues Daily from Melbourn, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @TBLDaily. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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