The latest spring training update, with the report date for pitchers and catchers and the first workouts, can transport a person to Sarasota without needing an airline reservation.
Shovels filled with snow and ice bring that same person back to reality. But at least there are no lines at security.
I have a few more weeks until I need to start packing and issuing the same reminder that it’s spring training and not spring break. Don’t get them confused.
The alarm is set early just about every day for six weeks. It’s work, I tell you.
Oh sure, it’s sunny and warm and baseball. The restaurant choices are more expansive than Shakespeare’s vocabulary. But thou shalt never truly know the depths of my despair over learning that Yume Sushi on Main Street has closed permanently.
The new owners shut it down before the squid ink dried on the contract. But after every storm, there is a rainbow roll.
(I didn’t maki that up. It’s true.)
The first exhibition game is Feb. 24 against the Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium. The Orioles play the Pirates in Bradenton and Braves in North Port the next two days, the two shortest trips. However, the 26th is a split-squad day, with a home game against the Rays.
The early action is mostly on the back fields, where hearts pound at the excitement of pitchers fielding practice and bunting and baserunning drills. Some of it spills onto the main stadium field. The drills and the excitement.
Media will capture mound sessions on video and in photos, the pitchers lined up in a row, until the novelty eventually wears off. It usually takes four or five days.
If there isn’t a new starter to obsess over, we’ll just have to settle for veteran closer Craig Kimbrel. How he looks on the side and in games, any misstep sending some fans into a panic.
Félix Bautista will cast a large shadow during his rehab.
Batting practice cuts through the monotony, and the Orioles always have some must-sees in camp. Chris Davis was an annual curiosity. He hits a ball off the roof of the indoor cage beyond the right field fence at the Camden Yards replica field, and the conclusion-jumping begins that “he’s back.” A spring tradition unlike any other.
He provided good copy.
Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Heston Kjerstad, Coby Mayo and Jackson Holliday will keep us entertained. Henderson and Holliday taking ground balls at shortstop will do the same. If Mayo moves away from the corner infield and is shagging fly balls, his every movement is going to be tracked.
I’d be surprised if Mayo is on the Opening Day roster, but he’s one of the more interesting players in camp as he climbs prospect rankings and finds obstacles at third and first base. Holliday is the kid king of the storylines, of course, as he tries to break camp as baseball’s No. 1 prospect and only a few months past his 20th birthday.
Holliday can’t be asked about it at the Birdland Caravan because he’s no longer able to attend. We’ll get him in Sarasota.
Connor Norby has made 233 starts at second base in the minors, and only one at shortstop. He made 28 appearances at third base with the Waynesboro Generals in the summer Valley League in 2019. Would the Orioles move him around the infield to expand his versatility beyond the outfield corners?
There’s a fascination with Norby’s future after he hit .290/.359/.483 with 40 doubles, three triples, 21 home runs and 92 RBIs last summer in 138 games for Norfolk.
Rotation competitions are the heartbeat of spring training. It’s rare to go through six weeks without one. Even the best teams have a question mark at the end. The Orioles are far from set, with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias trying to acquire another starter and also knowing he has a few in-house candidates.
The composition of the bullpen will be impacted, which attaches it to the rotation storyline. They’re a matched set.
* Today marks exactly five years since my father passed away. Gets easier and then it isn’t.
I’ll reread the story I wrote about him – I also wanted to scan your comments, which were compassionate and comforting, but they don’t appear anymore - and watch the Ravens game with my mother and sister in Ocean Pines. We’ll toast him at “wine time,” which doesn’t require wine. Any drink will do.
Stories will be shared. Probably a few tears. And I'll think about how much he would have loved the 2023 Orioles.
I'll also think about how he never got to see my granddaughter. She melts hearts. And never saw the house Emily and I bought. It's unfair, but that's life.
Be sure to tell the ones close to you that you love them. It's always good advice, but especially today.