Today we wrap up our look around Birdland with the four general managers of the Orioles’ full-season minor league affiliates. Today I check in with Chris Bitters, the GM since November 2006 of the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds.
The Shorebirds begin their 120-game schedule in the 12-team Low-A East League on May 4 with the season running through Sept. 19.
The recent announcement that sports facilities in Maryland can host fans at up to 50 percent of capacity was met with big enthusiasm by minor league clubs, which didn’t host any fans or any games during the 2020 season. The Shorebirds recently announced their COVID-19 Readiness Plan, providing guidelines on spacing and many other aspects for fans at Perdue Stadium.
“We’re thrilled,” Bitters said of the news that fans can return. “It’s kind of like a birthday present or Christmas present. You know a package is coming but you don’t know what’s in the package. We’ve prepared for various scenarios and we’re thrilled when we heard the announcement of up to 50 percent. That is what we will plan for now.”
Delmarva has been an O’s affiliate since 1997 and Perdue Stadium is a very fan-friendly place. As with many teams, Bitters and his staff have developed friendships and close relationships with many people that come through their turnstiles.
“Delmarva is a small town, small community,” he said. “We also have a lot of tourism in the summer months here with Ocean City. But we have the privilege of getting to know our fans on a personal basis. Whether it’s a big corporation fan or whether it’s an individual family that has tickets or groups.
“Our staff loves to be a part of that family with them. Like I said the other day to somebody, the hugs and handshakes may not happen on opening day, there may be air fist bumps and elbows, whatever is appropriate. But that is what I enjoy most. Whether it’s behind home plate or in front of the stadium welcoming them in, you get to know them on a first-name basis. You know about their families and kids and they know about my kids. It’s a really special relationship we have with our community.”
Now that Major League Baseball has taken over and restructured the farm, some changes could be coming down the road. Some have already taken place, including an attempt to reduce travel and improve conditions for players and staff.
“You know, I think that will be the interesting part as part of the new relationship with Major League Baseball, there are really two buckets. There is the business operations side, which is what the fans mostly see. And then there is the baseball operations side, which is what the players and affiliates and those people see.
“I think the baseball operations side - that part is pretty defined with what the future looks like and what we need to get to. Whether it’s buses or travel or accommodations, lockers, the physical facility and player amenities. That is pretty defined and we will all work to get there when we need to.
“The business operations side, I would say, will more evolve over time. Obviously, it’s a major transition to get us all under this new umbrella. I really think the potential efficiencies we might be able to find as an industry, as a small-market team in Salisbury, Md., we might not have certain opportunities that a bigger company would. So now that we are part of this bigger network and Major League Baseball will be involved, there may be some opportunities that we couldn’t have done on our own that potentially now that you have a mass together (of teams) could pull off to drive our business operations. So, I’m excited and curious as we ramp this whole thing up.”
Bitters said he keeps in pretty close contact with the other GMs in Birdland. The four men help each other and spent a lot of time during the shutdown of the sport supporting each other and exchanging thoughts and ideas.
“Birdland really is a family from top to bottom,” he said.
Speaking of those GMs, if you missed any of this four-part series and the Zoom interviews, here they are one more time, and you can find the interview with Bitters at the bottom of this entry:
And with the big club: The Orioles are still struggling to hit. They lost 5-1 to Detroit in Lakeland on Sunday and their record is 3-10-1. They’ve reached the midpoint of the spring with 14 games done and 14 left to play.
Right-hander Dean Kremer threw well again and has allowed one run in six innings his past two starts. Lefty Bruce Zimmermann hasn’t allowed a run at all in three relief outings. He’s thrown nine innings and has given up one hit with three walks and 10 strikeouts. Opponents’ batters are hitting .036 against the local product.
In case there was any question, manager Brandon Hyde cleared it up after Sunday’s game. Zimmermann is very much a rotation candidate, even though he has yet to start this spring. The Orioles are stretching him out and he could be pitching his way into a season-opening rotation spot.
The Orioles host the Pirates today at 1:05 p.m. and Matt Harvey gets that start. You can hear the game on 105.7 FM the Fan in Baltimore.