For the Orioles it was another step along the way in trying to stay healthy to both begin and complete this unique 2020 Major League Baseball season.
It was a flight to a road city, the hotel check-in and some things that were not exactly as they had been in previous seasons. But center fielder Austin Hays said the trip to Boston went smoothly. He spoke to reporters via Zoom today, just a few hours before tonight’s season opener.
“Actually, it wasn’t too crazy,” said Hays. “Everything is very, very organized from the Orioles’ standpoint. So, it’s actually been an easy transition. The biggest thing is to make sure we continue to wear a mask and follow the protocols. As far as the bus rides, plane rides, the food being grab-and-go and what the Red Sox have been able to do here at this facility, just making sure we’re following all the protocols. But it’s still a great environment and great situation for us, with plenty of space to get all the work in. So it’s been great so far.
“Just really excited that we are finally here. There’s been a lot of work from a lot of different people. Lot of employees and staff from the Orioles that put in a tremendous amount of work to get us here. So, I’m just very excited that we’re going to go out on the field and play a game that matters.”
The 2017 O’s Minor League Player of the Year, Hays got a call-up last September and ran with it. Over 75 plate appearances in 21 games, he batted .309/.373/.574 with six doubles, four homers, 12 runs and 13 RBIs. He’ll lead off tonight as the club begins its 67th season.
He looks around the clubhouse and sees a bunch of younger players filled with confidence as the opener arrives.
“I think it’s huge,” said Hays. “You look at any team that goes on good runs, it just seems like everybody plays to have their brother’s back out there on the field. Everybody picks each other up. When one guy can’t get a job done, nobody hangs their head. The next guy is up and the next guy gets the job done. So, I think we’re in a great position to do that ourselves and take care of business this year. So, I’m real excited to get it going today.
“I think the biggest areas we can improve are the little fundamental things that I personally want to get better at. Just simple things like hitting the cutoff man from the outfield. Not making routine fundamental errors. Running the bases correctly, but aggressively at the same time and pushing the envelope. Putting pressure on teams. Little things that we weren’t necessarily great at last year when we were a younger team. But we’ve learned from it and now it’s time to get better at those aspects. I think it will make a huge difference for us, knowing how many close games we lost last year that included some of those small, fundamental mistakes.”
Hays said that when summer camp began he felt very ready. In the lead-up to a normal spring, he said, he might take 20 to 30 live at-bats off pitcher. But he said he had nearly 70 in the bank when he showed up earlier this month at Camden Yards.
“I just want to go out and play my game,” he said. “I want to push the envelope when I’m on the bases. I want to play great defense. Limit 90 feet when I’m in the field, so doing all the correct fundamental things we work on, on a daily basis. Continue to have good at-bats. Swing at good pitches and put balls in play that are considered hard contact. That is all I can do, personally. As far as the team goes, we’re trying to compete every single pitch, every single inning, and see where we are in September.”
Hays, who still qualifies for the Rookie of the Year award, tonight gets the game’s first plate appearance as he makes his first opening day roster.
Check here about 30 minutes before game time for our opening day game blog.