What the Orioles did on their off-day yesterday was the best thing in the world -- for them and for many less fortunate than they.
On the eve of tonight's nine-game homestand opener against first-place Detroit, the Orioles played golf. They took part in a fund-raiser at the Towson Golf and Country Club at Eagle's Nest to benefit the Maryland Special Olympics.
"For us," said Bill Hearn, Maryland Special Olympics director, "this is a $50,000 event. It's the first time we've held this. Dick Bosman has been incredibly supportive."
Bosman, the club's pitching coach, was asked last winter to chair the outing. He did so happily. "You've got to give something back," Bosman said with a shrug. "This is the only way I know how to do it."
And so, at a time when Special Olympics is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the grounds at Eagle's Nest were overrun with Orioles -- plus those who shelled out $350 apiece to play in the event.
Out on the practice tee, before the shotgun start, pitchers Mark Williamson and Todd Frohwirth were firing away. Williamson, a friend of U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen, has a swing that looks even better than his 15 handicap. Frohwirth, the submarine baller, showed why he seldom breaks 100.
Both players said Fernando Valenzuela, who plays -- lefty -- to an 8 handicap, is the club's best golfer.
Big Ben McDonald, wearing an army camouflage cap backward, joked that he was wearing the hat so no one would see him if he had to do a little cheating.
Chris Hoiles, at the practice green, reflected on his having broken out of an 0-for-17 slump Sunday with a single, double and his ninth home run in the Orioles' 6-3 win in Cleveland.
"I always seem to do better when I play in front of family and friends," said Hoiles, who is from Bowling Green, Ohio. "I must have had 250 of them at the three games in Cleveland over the weekend. We might have to figure out a way to take some of that crowd around with us."
Ex-Orioles Boog Powell and Ronnie Hansen, now a Yankee scout, were talking to some fans. Another ex-Oriole, Hall of Fame member Frank Robinson, now an assistant general manager, stood at the clubhouse entrance with GM Roland Hemond and the other assistant GM, Doug Melvin.
George Smith, director of sports and education at Special Olympic world headquarters in Washington, was talking about the good that can be done for handicapped athletes with the money raised yesterday.
A day like that should do a lot of good for the players, too, particularly now.
They have worked hard and accomplished a lot in a short time. Since May 31 they have won 15 of 19 and six straight series. Winning makes a huge difference. You can see that even at a golf outing.
Now, eight games out of first place, the Orioles plunge into three straight series here against the clubs that are ahead of them in the American League East -- Detroit, New York and Toronto.
Jeff Hall and Glenn Garbinski, who install car stereos in Owings Mills, played golf yesterday, sponsored by their boss, Ken Bullough.
If there are two things ballplayers like, they are cars and stereos. Most of the Orioles are customers of Hall and Garbinski.
Hall and Garbinski noticed a significant change in the Orioles yesterday.
"They've developed a winning spirit," said Hall. "This is a good time to have it, with these three big series coming up."
There is a tendency to think the next nine games against all the teams ahead of them will be crucial for the Orioles.
But Williamson, for one, has been a pro for too long (since 1982) to panic over a homestand this early in the season.
"If we were going to panic," Williamson said, "we'd have done it when we were nine games under .500 and we were playing bad."
Williamson is not even interested in saying how many of these nine games the club has to win.
"All we have to do," he said, "is play halfway decent this home stand."