Dawn of a New Season

April 04, 1994

This is The Year. Of course, on opening day of the baseball season, every year is The Year. But this is The Year.

Whether or not another pennant flies over Camden Yards this fall, it is Year One of the New Era for Baltimore baseball.

Not since Jerry Hoffberger sold the Orioles to Edward Bennett Williams in 1979 has control of the team rested in local hands.

With deep pockets, no less. After 15 years of the Washington attorney and the New York financier who followed him, Eli Jacobs, the checks are now signed Peter G. Angelos. With a Baltimore postmark.

Money doesn't necessarily buy baseball pennants. Nor does ardent local ownership. George Steinbrenner proves that in New York each year. But it does wonders for the spirits of the fans, especially after the penny-pinching Jacobs years. As the first ball is thrown in Oriole Park this afternoon, there is excitement about the coming season that rivals the frenzy over the new ballpark two years ago. New faces abound in the team's lineup, and a few familiar ones will be missing.

When the difference between winning and also-ran can be the condition of a ligament or cartilage, the brightest of outlooks can dim quickly. Just compare the glowing reports of the Orioles' pitching rotation at the start of spring training with the concerns over sore elbows and shoulders now. (So what if Ben McDonald has a tender elbow? He batted -- yes, batted -- 1.000 in spring training. No such thing as too many pinch hitters.)

Still, fan enthusiasm is high, despite the so-so performances in Florida. The new owners have invested heavily in on-field improvements. At a time of declining baseball revenue, the team's payroll has jumped more than $10 million over last year and may yet climb more before the trading deadline passes.

For the first time in many years, the Orioles were a factor in the winter free agent market. A couple got away, but it's clear the Birds are once again a ball club first and foremost, and not just a cash cow. Mr. Angelos is an owner with his Baltimorean's heart on his sleeve and his checkbook at the ready.

What more could a true fan want? This is The Day when the sun and the future shine brightest.

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