A kind world would make carving reminiscent of turkeys on the Thanksgiving table rather than Nathan Eovaldi facing the Orioles in the Division Series. But gentle isn’t always an option.
Let’s keep it brief today. Like saying grace. Expressing your gratitude without letting the gravy get cold and develop that skin on the surface.
Orioles fans should be thankful for a 2023 season that probably exceeded their wildest expectations.
A record above .500? Optimists were on it. Making the playoffs? Not beyond the realm of possibility after the club went 83-79 the previous summer.
Posting the best record in the American League to win the division and earn a first-round bye? Crazy talk until it happened.
Still crazy sometimes to think about it.
Here are some other suggestions beyond the love of family and friends, and hopefully, good health:
The talent pipeline.
I haven’t done the research, but there can’t be a long history of teams that register 101 victories and also have the top-ranked farm system in baseball.
For many clubs, piling up talent is done while shedding prospects or just outspending the competitors. Bidding wars are won before games.
The Orioles are in a “healthy” state, a word used frequently by executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. All part of a plan outlined while he interviewed for the job. Being able to sustain success in the long term instead of in one burst that might be followed by another teardown and rebuild.
Nobody wants to go through that again.
Jackson Holliday is the No. 1 prospect in baseball and on the verge of making his debut, following Grayson Rodriguez, Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad in 2023. Corner infielder Coby Mayo reached Triple-A Norfolk this season and MLB Pipeline ranks him 27th in its top 100. Catcher Samuel Basallo is 46th. Connor Norby is seventh in the organization after a sensational year with Norfolk.
Center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. was the first-round pick in this year’s draft and he’s eighth.
The present is bright and so is the future. A good time to be an Orioles fan.
Manager Brandon Hyde.
No one in the profession is immune to criticism. Starters are removed too early or too late. The lineup is in the wrong order. Guys should be benched or play more. Relievers are buried or overworked.
Everyone is an expert.
Hyde is a two-time Sporting News Manager of the Year in the American League and earned the Baseball Writers’ Association of America honor this season. He should have won it in 2022 instead of being runner-up to Terry Francona.
He has the respect of his peers, which is more important than the media. I can say it. But the latter also is coming around.
Elias made the right call in hiring Hyde before the 2019 season, knowing he would execute the proper navigation through the rebuild and walk that fine line between understanding that the major league product would sit on the back burner for a while and still demanding effort from his players and the mindset that wins mattered.
To hell with the apparent contradiction.
The 2019 draft.
The first one under Elias should be framed and hung in the warehouse.
Catcher Adley Rutschman with the first-overall selection, followed by infielder Gunnar Henderson in the second round and outfielder Kyle Stowers with the Competitive Balance B pick. LSU outfielder Zach Watson was a swing-and-miss in the third round – released in July and playing independent ball the rest of the summer – but shortstops Joey Ortiz and Darell Hernaiz were the next two selections.
Ortiz made his major league debut this year and is a special defender with a bat that produced a .321/.378/.507 line with 30 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 58 RBIs in 88 games with Norfolk. Hernaiz was placed on the 40-man roster earlier this month, but with the Athletics after they acquired him in the Cole Irvin trade.
Catcher Maverick Handley arrived in the sixth round. He’s exposed in the Rule 5 draft but the Orioles haven’t soured on him. They’re just counting on other teams passing.
The draft is a rousing success simply because of Rutschman, runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year in 2022, and Henderson, who finished first this season. Henderson was eighth and Rutschman ninth in Most Valuable Player voting. Elias hit two home runs with those picks, worthy of a couple bat flips and poses.
The left field wall.
It doesn’t need a nickname. Just more acknowledgement of its importance.
Yes, it robs some hitters of home runs. Ryan Mountcastle probably wants to take a sledgehammer to it. But the ballpark no longer allows lazy fly balls to count as home runs.
It’s fair, plain and simple. Perhaps a bit extreme in the distance it moved back, the height of the wall and the 90-degree angle at the bullpen, but much better than before.
Pitchers are appreciative and free agents are more willing to sign with the Orioles.
Also, it angered the Yankees, so that alone makes it perfect.
The pitch clock.
Maybe it's more important to the media than fans, but having games move faster is a blessing.
I admit that I barely noticed the clock as the season progressed. It was such a big deal in spring training. One eye on the pitcher, the other on the clock. And we knew that the regular season games wouldn't last a little over two outs. That was Grapefruit League stuff.
And it was wonderful.
Any chance to keep the games from dragging is a plus. It isn't unreasonable to expect batters to stay in the box and for pitchers to stop circling the mound, rubbing up the ball and pondering the meaning of life.
Next up, I want 6:35 p.m. games during the week throughout the season and more 1:05 p.m. or 1:35 p.m. starts - during the week, weekends, whenever. Make it happen, please.
Defense that doesn’t rest.
Improving the pitching results required, among other things, more support in the field.
Rutschman and Henderson answer that bell, too. But there are others.
The Orioles went 0-for-3 in Gold Glove voting, but how about having three finalists in Rutschman, Mountcastle and left fielder Austin Hays? The gravy boat is half full.
Henderson was deserving, as well, but splitting starts between shortstop and third base left him as a utility candidate. He didn’t make the cut.
Wait until next year.
Ramón Urías won a Gold Glove at third base in 2022, and shortstop Jorge Mateo won a Fielding Bible Award. Center fielder Cedric Mullins was a finalist that year. Westburg had three defensive runs saved at second base this summer.
Fans came back to Camden Yards.
The place was rockin’ again and attendance should experience another bump in 2024.
Sorry if you don’t like crowded concourses and long lines for concessions and bathrooms. If you abhor shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling up and down Eutaw Street. The price paid for watching a winner.
The Orioles averaged 23,911 fans this season, compared to 17,543 in 2022. The pandemic restrictions are gone. The rebuild is over.
The 81-game total of 1,936,798 fans was the largest annual attendance at Camden Yards since the Orioles drew 2,028,424 in 2017. According to Baseball Reference, they had the third-largest increase in the majors from 2022-23 at 568,431 behind the Phillies (775,869) and Reds (642,532).
My lasting image of the Division Series besides the quiet clubhouse after Game 3 and Hyde’s hugs with every player is the scoreboard countdown at Camden Yards before the start of Game 1, and how loud it got as fans stood, yelled and waved their orange towels. So much electricity that the Orioles could have used it to turn on the banks of lights.
Has there been a more enjoyable team to watch in franchise history?
If so, the 2023 Orioles came close.
I’m not saying the best team or the most accomplished. I’m talking about the youthful energy that rubbed off on the older players. The water-themed celebrations and how the marketing and public relations departments ran with it. How the social media team raised its own game.
Players lined the dugout railing and sprayed water from their mouths after extra-base hits. The splash zone was born in left field. And victories led to the dimming of ceiling lights in the clubhouse, with strobe lights and smoke machines turned on while music blared. A nightclub scene interrupted after the media gained entrance and began its interviews.
These guys genuinely like each other and want to hang out. And it’s more than that. Backup catcher James McCann used the word “love” multiple times.
Baseball players who became chemistry majors, an attitude that permeates the farm system.
There’s so much more that’s worthy of giving thanks. The emergence of Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish, the latter placing fourth in Cy Young voting. Ryan O’Hearn’s journey from outrighted player to middle-of-the-order hitter. Félix Bautista’s dominant run as closer before his elbow surgery. Yennier Cano’s emergence as All-Star setup man and part-time closer. Rutschman in the Home Run Derby. Kyle Gibson’s generosity and impact on the city that led to a third nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award. John Means’ return from Tommy John surgery. Buck Britton’s managing and the work of his coaching staff with Norfolk, which won the Triple-A championship. A sweepless streak that reached 91 series in a row. Forty-eight comeback wins to lead the AL. The 52-29 road record. Down years from the Yankees and Red Sox. The mute feature on the former Twitter.
So much for keeping it brief this morning.
I’m thankful as always for this platform. For readers who are incredibly loyal and engaged. So many of you up early, catching my typos and other mistakes before me. Providing material for the mailbag.
The only traffic that I love is found here, and it’s bumper to bumper.
The bosses notice it. And I make sure to point it out at contract time.
I’m so grateful for that. And the School of Roch Nights inspired by Cardiac Scott. Keeping them alive in his memory. You’re a special group of people. Like a family, including the weird uncle.
You can decide who earns that designation.
I love the playful bickering, too. It’s all good.
Please share your lists this morning, and your menus before the tryptophan kicks in and you can’t get off the couch or recliner.