A few random thoughts for today’s blog.
No asterisk for me: I can’t imagine anyone will forget the year 2020 anytime soon. It has been strange in so many ways to include baseball, where the season lasted just 60 games, the World Series was played at a neutral site and there were no fans in the stands until the very end of the year.
But I still count the Los Angeles Dodgers’ championship - their first since 1988 - as very legit. No asterisk needed. Yes, the season was very different, but they earned their championship. They posted the best record in the regular season at 43-17 and then were the last team standing in what started as a playoff round with 16 teams.
There was pressure on them from the start, and in their own division they got pushed by the improved San Diego Padres, who had the third-best record in Major League Baseball but finished six games out at 37-23. The Padres’ record was good enough to win four other divisions.
And Los Angeles had to get by San Diego in the National League Division Series and did. They swept the Padres in three straight. They fell behind Atlanta three games to one in the NL Championship Series and then won three in a row to advance to the World Series. They lost an epic Game 4 to the Rays and the World Series was tied 2-2. But they got the momentum back and won the last two games.
They had to battle the season-long protocols to keep players healthy and on the field, as did all teams. It could not have been easy at all to thrive under such conditions. But they did. From the first game. They went 18-7 to start their year and they were on their way.
Still miss Etch: A sad anniversary passed a few weeks back and I am upset I didn’t remember it at the time. On Oct. 5, 2019 former Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren passed away at age 76.
During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Etchebarren was the manager of the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds and I was the team’s radio broadcaster. For two years I was lucky to greet and talk with Etch every day. I got a first-hand look at a man with a great work ethic, one who loved his job and truly loved being an Oriole.
In his early 60s at that time, the guy was out there every day throwing batting practice to kids 20 and 21. In 2005 the Orioles drafted an outfielder named Nolan Reimold. In 50 games this talented second-round pick batted .294/.392/.550 with a .942 OPS. He had some real pop in that bat and Etchebarren pushed him to be better. He’d often end batting practice putting everything he had on the ball trying to throw pitches by Reimold. He got a few by him, but many went soaring high and far into the Aberdeen air. But both the young kid and the veteran baseball man enjoyed a cool moment each day.
Etchebarren caught for the Orioles for parts of 12 seasons. He caught every inning of their stunning four-game World Series sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966. In that series, the Dodgers were held to two runs in Game 1 and blanked for the last three games and 33 innings of the series. He would later split time catching with Elrod Hendricks on the great clubs from 1969-1971 and was a member of the 1970 world champion Orioles.
I loved hearing Etchebarren tell stories about his days with the Orioles. And about his days as the club’s bench coach for playoff teams in 1996 and 1997. He cared deeply for all his players - the high draft picks and the last guys on the roster. He worked hard for all of them.
As for me, I learned so much being around the man. I’ve said it many times - I couldn’t wait to get to the park each day to hear what was on his mind. It would always be interesting and it was an honor to work with him.
I wrote this when he died last year.
Nice words about Big Mike: O’s pitching prospect Michael Baumann was part of the Orioles’ 60-man player pool and spent time this summer at the alternate camp at Double-A Bowie. But before the O’s season ended, his own was shut down in September by a flexor mass strain, but he’s expected to be full-go in spring training. There’s no ligament damage. The issue was muscular, which was good news.
“We fully expect him to be healthy for spring training. He’s doing well,” O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said in his season-ending Zoom press conference.
When I interviewed pitching coach Kennie Steenstra recently about the Bowie camp, I asked him to describe what had been the focus of camp for Baumann this summer.
“Well, similar with the other two guys we have mentioned (Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer), he’s been mainly fastball-slider and we’re trying to implement a changeup and curveball to his repertoire. The curveball was really starting to take off and he was throwing some really good ones and getting them into his pitch mix in a very effective manner. He is such a dominating physique guy you start dreaming (of big things) when you see this guy on the mound. Hopefully he gets back 100 percent. He definitely has all the ability and all the weapons to accomplish a lot and the sky is the limit for him.”
In this entry I published a video interview with Steenstra earlier this week. Coming in the next several days I will have more comments from pitching coach Justin Ramsey, who also worked at the Bowie camp this summer. Stay tuned for that.