Looking forward to a return to normal

I look forward to the day when the world gets closer to being normal again, however we define the term. When a baseball season lasts longer than a dental appointment and hearing “corona” makes you want to squeeze a lime wedge into a bottle of beer.

I look forward to the day when I can conduct a MASN interview from the press box without looking like I just came out of surgery. When I can prepare for a group interview without checking my Zoom background or calculating my consecutive mornings without showering.

I look forward to the day when meals at Camden Yards are relished for more than just the opportunity to remove my mask. When cardboard cutouts in the stands are just another name for corporate sponsors.

I look forward to the day when Prince George’s Stadium is used for Bowie Baysox games instead of intrasquads at the alternate camp site. When shutting down the Ed Smith Stadium complex means turning off the lights and locking the front gate until the next morning.

I look forward to the day when there are more tears than tiers at the ballpark. When the leather gloves outnumber the rubber ones.

I look forward to the day when 19 makes us think about Johnny Unitas and Dave McNally instead of COVID. (Or even Ben McDonald, Fred Lynn, Larry Sheets, Koji Uehara or Óscar Salazar.) When extensions are used for contracts and hair instead of dugouts.

I look forward to the day when sideline reporting is a sweet gig instead of a suite gig. When baseball is attached more to David Lough than a furlough.

I look forward to the day when the Orioles spring training cap doesn’t look like two emblems melted in the dryer. When I’m done eating while colleague Steve Melewski sits in Dunedin traffic.

It’s also about the players, which leads to a few more items on my wish list. With the bold assumption, of course, that there won’t be any more interruptions.

* I look forward to opening day at Camden Yards on April 8, with a sellout crowd eagerly awaiting player introductions and Trey Mancini’s jog down the orange carpet. It’s going to be one of the most memorable and emotional moments in franchise history. No better reason to get to your seats early.

The unwritten rule about no cheering in the press box will be challenged like a questionable call on the bases.

Of the many reasons why we’d curse another fanless season, none would rank higher in the “non-lost revenue” category than Mancini’s introduction.

He’s earned every single ovation. Let it happen.

* I look forward to the next batch of prospects reaching the majors. They provide good copy and increase fan interest in a team that again isn’t expected to contend.

Mountcastle-Draws-Walk-Black-Sidebar.jpgThe buzz over Ryan Mountcastle’s arrival, which followed the daily complaints about the delay, provided the most noise in 2020. The fact that he lived up to the hype, and in some ways exceeded it, validated the constant attention.

Pitchers Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann also injected energy into the team and its fan base. The vision of the rebuild became much clearer.

So who’s next?

You want excitement? Just wait until outfielder Yusniel Diaz is deemed ready, his arrival delayed due to the cancellation of the minor league season. And whichever young starters jump to the front of the line, whether it’s Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann - assuming that he makes a full recovery from his forearm strain - Alexander Wells or someone else.

DL Hall would have been assigned to Double-A Bowie this summer. He’s a candidate for a late audition.

* I look forward to more Mountcastle.

He should be in the thick of the race for American League Rookie of the Year. Nothing about his performance suggested that it was a fluke.

Mountcastle can hit for power and average, draw walks and run. He can play left field at an adequate level, with room to grow into the position. He’s going to be in the middle of the order, exactly how the previous regime imagined it, but no longer subjected to experiments in the field.

The Orioles want Mountcastle in left field and occasionally at first base, but perhaps there are factors that reverse their thinking. Like a crowded outfield.

* I look forward to finding out how the Orioles navigate a crowded outfield.

It makes sense to put Mountcastle in left, Austin Hays in center and Gold Glove finalist Anthony Santander in right. Until you also consider an alignment of Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Santander in right, with Mountcastle at first base.

Or until you factor in Mancini’s return. Or until you refuse to give up on DJ Stewart.

Diaz and Ryan McKenna are waiting in the wings. Would make more sense in Triple-A.

* I look forward to tracking catcher Adley Rutschman beyond his workouts in summer and fall camps.

Rutschman, the undisputed top prospect in the organization, would have been assigned to Single-A Frederick. The Orioles must decide whether to hold onto that plan or give him a bump, which inches him closer to his major league debut.

They need to measure the progress made in his development in a year with no minor league games. They’ve touted the advantages to catching and facing higher levels of pitching.

Is that enough to place him on Bowie’s roster?

Here’s hoping that we actually get the opportunity to find out.

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