The Second Season

April 05, 1993

Is this The Year?

Or is it another Building Year?

When President Clinton throws out the first ball this afternoon, the hopes -- yes, even expectations -- of Orioles fans will be riding high. They're flocking to Camden Yards in record numbers again. The Birds had an unexpectedly good season last year, buoyed perhaps by the enthusiasm of the fans for their new, spectacular surroundings. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is not exactly old hat yet, but this year the excitement will be out on the field.

Optimism is always high among fans at the outset of a baseball season, even where there is clearly no basis for it in reality. But by any objective standard, there is solid ground for excitement among Orioles fans this year. An improved, young pitching staff, led by a seasoned role model named Sutcliffe; a healthy shortstop named Ripken and an injury-free first baseman named Davis, a sterling outfield. What more could a fan ask?

There's even the added intrigue about what's happening in the Orioles' front office -- or in the bankers' offices in New York. The long-rumored sale of the ball club by majority owner Eli Jacobs appears to be in the offing. How that transaction turns out could eventually play a role in the Orioles' final standing in league or -- dare we say it? -- postseason play. Money for expensive players doesn't buy pennants, but it doesn't hurt, either.

This is also a crossroads year for major-league baseball. Fans won't see signs of economic problems at Camden Yards, where the Orioles have already sold nearly as many tickets as they did in all of last season. Yet even record ticket revenues, important as they are, don't fuel most baseball clubs. Television revenue does. And the national television contracts are up for renewal next year, with signs they will not be nearly as lucrative as the expiring ones. Despite some fears last winter, negotiation of a new players' agreement has not yet reached the crisis stage. But it isn't signed and sealed yet, either.

Those clouds are far off as Oriole Rick Sutcliffe throws the opening pitch this afternoon. It's spring, whatever the temperature. The turf is green, the base paths freshly raked, the seats -- well, most of them -- inviting.

Baseball is back. All's right with the world.

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