SARASOTA, FLA. YFB — SARASOTA, Fla. -- There will be some new wrinkles, but the most dramatic change in the Orioles' spring training camp this year will have more to do with the team bus driver than manager John Oates.
"The biggest difference," said Oates, who will be running his first major-league camp, "will be less time on the bus."
Not that Oates wants to use last year's vagabond schedule that had the Orioles playing all over Florida as an excuse. He just thinks this year's setup, while not perfect, provides a built-in advantage.
The Orioles will train here until March 5, then move up the coast to St. Petersburg, where they will set up camp and play their home games.
"I commend our club for not using our [exhibition] schedule last year as an excuse," said Oates. "Not once did I hear anybody blame it for what happened. But it was a tough, rigorous schedule to put players through in an effort to get ready for a major-league season."
Fewer, and shorter, bus rides will allow the Orioles to concentrate on a couple of areas where Oates feels the club came up short last year. "We'll be able to spend more time on baserunning," he said. "That, along with starting pitching and situational hitting, was one of the areas where I felt we were inept a year ago."
Dave Lopes, one of three new coaches on Oates' staff, will spend a lot of time on individual instruction. "Going from first to third base is something that's overlooked a lot of times," said Oates, "but that one base can make a big difference."
While Oates will bring his own ideas into this camp, he isn't interested in adding any frills. "We'll stick to the basics," he said. "We're not going to get too tricky. If you do the basics right, you'll end up OK most of the time."
Oates has been here for the last week, enjoying a brief vacation after a hectic offseason, and his enthusiasm appears even greater now than it was when he got the manager's job last May.
"There's only one other time a year when baseball is more exciting than it is at the start of spring training -- and then only two [World Series] teams enjoy it," said Oates.
"Getting down here, seeing the faces, seeing the anxiousness to get started -- it gets more exciting every day."
One of the reasons for Oates' enthusiasm is a statistic that only the Elias Sports Bureau could have uncovered. It somehow turns the 35 one-run losses last year into a positive note. No American League team has lost more one-run decisions in the last 23 years.
The Elias research uncovered this curious fact: A good record in one-run games (normally an indication of a good team) usually precedes a down season; a poor record in those games generally precedes a year of improvement -- sometimes dramatic.
In the last 25 years, 21 major-league teams have lost 35 or more one-run games, and all but four improved their overall record the following year. The team that made the most remarkable turnaround was one that left a dark mark in Orioles' history.
The 1968 Mets lost 37 games by one run in 1968, when they were 73-89 (six games better than the Orioles' record of a year ago). The next year, en route to beating the Orioles in a five-game World Series, the Mets posted a 100-62 record -- an overall improvement of 27 games.
"I don't know if it [the theory] works or not, but it shows me that it does not take a great deal to put us over the top when you're that close," said Oates.
There is a similarity between the two teams that might also encourage Oates. The 1968 Mets were nurturing some young pitchers by the name of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and (would you believe?) Nolan Ryan. The Orioles can't put Bob Milacki, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina in that company -- but they can dream.
If early arrivals are any indication, the Orioles are off to a good start. Most of the pitchers have already been on the field for informal workouts and several position players are already in town.
Dwight Evans, who is always on the scene early, Glenn Davis and Sam Horn have made appearances. Rick Sutcliffe has been in the clubhouse since early in the week and he was joined by virtually the entire staff yesterday.
When the Orioles move to St. Petersburg early next month, Rick Dempsey may find himself with a familiar roommate. His son John is a catcher in the St. Louis organization, and the Orioles will share training facilities with the Cardinals in St. Petersburg.
"We're thinking about rooming together," said Rick, a non-roster invitee to the Orioles' camp. "But I think he just wants to get into my meal money."
Two members of the Orioles' family became fathers during the offseason -- one with a particularly ironic touch.
First baseman-outfielder David Segui's wife Kristin had their first child, Cory David, on Dec. 20. Trainer' Richie Bancells' wife Carol had their third child, Timothy Matthew, on Feb. 8.
Within two hours of the newest Bancells' arrival, two former coaches who worked with Richie in the Orioles' minor-league system -- Dom Chiti and Mark Wiley -- also became fathers. Wiley was the Orioles' pitching coach in 1987.
The Orioles are planning to move from their offices at Memorial Stadium to the their new home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the middle of next month.
Once the move is completed, the new address and phone number will be: 333 W. Camden St., Baltimore, Md. 21201; (410) 685-9800.
More than half of the Orioles' 30 exhibition games this spring will be broadcast by WBAL radio, the team's flagship station. It is the heaviest spring radio schedule in club history.
WMAR-TV and Home Team Sports each will televise three games. HTS will carry the exhibition against the Mets at the new park on April 3.