A different kind of opening day

Well, that was weird.

But also the beginning of a new routine.

I can’t remember the last opening day spent at my home. Maybe in 1996 because I wasn’t on the beat, though I could have been part of the overflow coverage at my former newspaper. More likely in 1995 with the Orioles in Kansas City.

The openers at Camden Yards, Tropicana Field and Yankee Stadium ensured a seat in the press box. Breaking camp in Sarasota and driving to St. Petersburg simplified the travel process.

The pandemic canceled my flight to Boston and messed with my Southwest and Marriott points. Sportswriters don’t take that stuff lightly. But we’ve been adapting since the middle of March.

Remember when the loss of clubhouse access at spring training and the shifting of interviews to the patio outside the media workroom seemed like a big deal? And, dare I say, a bit of an overreaction?

Slipping on a mask before entering the security and health-check stations and the ballpark no longer feels awkward. I gave up on comfortable a long time ago, but it’s beginning to seem as normal as carrying a laptop bag.

There’s no substitute for standing around the clubhouse for 50 minutes while searching for notebook ideas and waiting to tape manager Brandon Hyde’s pregame radio spot on 105.7 The Fan. I decided to pace the house and small-talk my bobbleheads.

The postgame interviews no longer start inside the auxiliary clubhouse. It’s back to the “Zoom room,” as we’ve renamed it here. For games at Camden Yards and in D.C. as my only approved travel, it’s an extension of the press box confinement and beat writers straining to hear the answers. Followed by the rushed transcription and posted updates before heading out and allowing the ballpark crew to disinfect and employees to go home.

The new routine.

The limitations on travel could be lifted if the Orioles make the playoffs and there aren’t the same health concerns, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Milone-Throws-Black-Front-Opener-Sidebar.jpg“In a 60-game season, anything can happen, and I really like how the pitching staff’s become a lot more veteran this year,” Trey Mancini said yesterday during his Zoom call. “I think that’s really big. Having guys like (Wade) LeBlanc and (Tommy) Milone in the rotation is really big and I think that’s going to rub off on a lot of the younger pitchers. Having some guys like that who have made great careers for themselves and been around for a long time, I think that’s going to be really important for us as the pitching staff and how they do and I think that’s going to help.

“It’s a 60-game sprint, so you never really know what can happen. I’ve got high hopes for the guys out there, and with the expanded playoffs, too, baseball’s a crazy game. I really think they can surprise some people this year.”

Mancini won’t be traveling, but he intends to play in 2021. Yesterday’s health update was encouraging.

An expanded playoff field to 16 teams has to inject a little more optimism in teams. Chris Davis said the Orioles haven’t discussed it “just because it’s so fresh.”

My guess is they’ll get around to it.

“Obviously, we’re having to deal with a number of challenges,” he said. “We haven’t really had a chance to sit down and talk about it. But it’s big for any club, especially in this setting, to have an opportunity to make the postseason with so few games. It really opens the door wide for a lot of teams, so as a player, you have to be excited for the opportunity to possibly play in a postseason game under these circumstances.”

Hyde provided a reminder yesterday that his club can’t look too far down the road. Small steps must be taken before it can run.

Last night was a face-plant.

“It’s win an inning right now, win every inning,” he said. “We’re process-based, but we’re really focusing on what we can control and that’s as a pitcher trying to win every pitch, as a team trying to win every inning and just taking it day to day.

“I did see that the postseason was expanded and that’s outstanding, but we’re a long ways away from that. We’re just trying to win tonight’s ballgame and then come out for tomorrow.”

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