Today, the preseason games have ended. Today, baseball is back.
For my team, the Baltimore Orioles, opening day is actually tomorrow (weather permitting). But the baseball season actually begins today with the hated New York Yankees facing off against the Tampa Bay Rays. Not what I would exactly call a marquee matchup, but then again, at least it’s not Yankees-Red Sox. Seems to me every time those two teams get together, it is hyped beyond belief. Even in those rare seasons where neither team is doing well, it’s treated like the baseball version of the Hatfields and McCoys.
As far as the Orioles are concerned, once again they are given little respect. However, with playoff appearances in three of the last five years, they are grudgingly moving the tide of public opinion in their favor. Most of the previews I’ve read have the Orioles
outside of the playoffs again, but at least this year, some give them a chance to go back. And why not? Last year’s team was picked to barely get out of the basement of the AL East, and they won 89 games behind a lineup that led the majors in home runs, played solid defense and had a lockdown, lights-out bullpen (at least most of the time). Add a bit better on-base percentage with that power, and hopefully better pitching from the starting rotation, they could certainly contend for a title.
The roster has seen a few minor tweaks. Matt Wieters, once looked at as the baseball savior in Baltimore, left via free agency. Yovani Gallardo was traded to bring in Seth Smith from the Seattle Mariners, who will hopefully shore up the defense in right field, keeping Mark Trumbo in the DH spot. Wellington Castillo was brought in to replace Wieters at catcher, and early indications are that he is as good as Wieters was, and may be better in some aspects.
Last season’s ending took a good while to get over. In case anyone needs reminding, the O’s lost in heartbreaking fashion in the American League wild card game. Tied with the Toronto Blue Jays in extra innings, O’s fans watched as now-former Blue Jay slugger Edwin Encarnacion drilled Ubaldo Jimenez’s first pitch deep into the outfield seats for a game-winning home run. That result was made all the worse by the fact that the Orioles’ best relief pitcher, Zach Britton, was left in the bullpen and never got in the game. I swear I’ve gotten over the loss. I have. Really.
Spring and opening day serve as reminders that hope rises anew for every baseball team. Can the Cubs, having finally ended their World Series drought, win two in a row? Will the Cleveland Indians make it back to the World Series, and finish the job this time around? Will the Red Sox, with a loaded squad, make it to the Series this year? Can the Washington Nationals finally get to the Series? These and many other questions will get their ultimate answers as the marathon that is baseball season plays out over the next few months.
Hopefully, the season ends with the O’s on top, but if it doesn’t, it’s great to see baseball back.