The bats, balls, uniforms and equipment were all packed away back in October, just as fall was making its entrance. A lot earlier than many of the supporters had hoped when the season dawned back in the spring. Many of us were hoping, praying and wishing that baseball would still be going well through October, possibly into November if necessary, if that’s what it took to bring home a championship. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and that baseball season reached its sunset.
After a long winter where players came and went, and some came back home, the call went out in mid-February. And they came from all over the country to warmer climates in Florida and Arizona. The equipment, uniforms, balls and bats were taken out and put back into use. The players returned to the game they loved. It used to be they used these weeks to get in shape for the season; but in this day and age, they are supposed to be in shape already, they just go over the fundamentals and get ready for the long grind ahead—the marathon that is another baseball season.
In just a few hours, the first official call to “play ball” will ring out at PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the first baseball game of the 2016 baseball season. And with that, one of the big four of sports begins a new story, filled with ups and downs, fastballs and curves, home runs and strikeouts, and all the things the grand old game offers to those of us who love it and still follow it. And while football, and basketball and hockey and soccer (futbol), and other sports have their charms, it is baseball that reminds me of renewal. Of fresh starts. Of green grass and sunshine. The crack of the bat, and the strategy involved. And so much more.
Which brings me to tomorrow afternoon, and the beginning of another Baltimore Orioles baseball season. The past few seasons have seen something of a renaissance with the franchise, with two playoff appearances in four years after a long drought of postseason action filled with plenty of losing. Still, through it all, they remain my team. I can remember season after season hoping that the Orioles would make some kind of progress, to show me that they were going to snap out of the losing funk that had draped over the franchise like a dark cloud that wouldn’t leave. Then, out of nowhere in 2012, the Orioles won enough games to get into the playoffs. No matter that they didn’t win the World Series that year; just seeing them playing postseason baseball was enough for me. Two years later, they got all the way to the American League Championship Series; but the bats couldn’t do much with Kansas City’s pitching staff after the first game, and they were swept out in four games.
Does that mean that the Orioles will pull another even-year surprise and make the playoffs again? Well…if you believe most of the prognosticators and pundits, the O’s might be lucky to make break-even again, like they were last season. The reason? The perceived lack of starting pitching. The bullpen looks to be solid as it has been over the last few years, and the lineup looks formidable; full of sluggers who can mash, but also prone to provide cooling breezes in the summer heat with a lot of swings that miss the ball completely. I used to pray for seasons with .500 records, but the O’s of the last few years have made me spoiled. I want more. Will I get it? I hope so, but we will see. The first steps are taken tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 PM (provided the weather holds up long enough to get the game in).
So…to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Yovani Gallardo and the rest of the players; to manager Buck Showalter and all the coaches…Let’s go O’s!