This was supposed to be the year when Orioles fans took their anti-Yankee fervor to a new level, but suddenly, the normal rules of fan behavior no longer apply. It's tough to root against the rival Yankees when the most important issues facing baseball's most talented team have little to do with baseball.
The departure of manager Joe Torre to undergo treatment for prostate cancer is just the latest in a string of health crises to hit the Yankees and their extended family. Outfielder Darryl Strawberry is battling colon cancer. Former Yankees great Catfish Hunter recently appeared at an exhibition game at Legends Field, displaying the early and tragic signs of Lou Gehrig's disease.
It's also tempting to include the death of Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio on this list of tragic circumstances, but that is not the same. The world mourns the passing of the Yankee Clipper, but DiMaggio lived to be 84 years old, and enjoyed such an exciting and eventful life that his passing was more a time for tribute than tears outside of his close circle of family and friends.
Torre's revelation was different. It came out of nowhere and it struck a chord with the millions of middle-aged men who are at risk for the disease that now threatens him. He will spend the next few weeks in Baltimore undergoing treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
He will undoubtedly use his experience to alert others to the importance of regular prostate testing. He will bring the same dignity to this off-field battle that he brought to the Yankees when he took over as manager three years ago.
Orioles fans may hate the Yankees, but every one of them knows that Torre is a class act. He is the guy who turned the Bronx Zoo into something much more befitting the great Yankee tradition that dates back to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and, of course, DiMaggio. There would be no new Yankee dynasty without Joe Torre.
The Yankees will keep winning in his absence. He has created such a stable and mature environment that the team that won an unprecedented 125 games last year will keep churning them out until he returns.
Trouble is, it's going to be hard to root against them.
Orioles outfielder Albert Belle made some headlines and was featured on Fox Sports News because he lost his temper after a check-swing third strike Thursday and angrily threw his helmet and bats into his locker. Must have been a very slow news day.
What's the problem? The Orioles wanted more intensity in the clubhouse and Belle is providing it. Did anyone really expect him to spend the year cuddling with the media and smiling at every undesirable outcome?
What he did the other day isn't even on a par with some of the things that volatile pitcher Kevin Brown has been known to do after a bad performance, but Belle has created an image for himself that makes even a minor outburst seem newsworthy.
If he limits himself to the kind of thing that happened Thursday, the Orioles should consider themselves ahead of the game.
Neagle toughs it out
When the Atlanta Braves traded former 20-game-winner Denny Neagle to the Cincinnati Reds in the five-player deal that brought them second baseman Bret Boone, there were whispers that they were bailing out on the former Arundel High star because of looming physical problems. Now, Neagle has been forced to take it slow in spring training because of weakness in his pitching shoulder.
Though the Reds don't feel that the problem is serious, Neagle probably will be a couple of weeks behind when the club opens the regular season. The Reds can only hope that's the extent of it.
Feuding and fighting
Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Todd Hundley and New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine have been taking shots at each other for months, but Dodgers vice president Tom Lasorda said recently that he intends to negotiate a truce between the two of them.
Lasorda should have some sway with both, since he is in the same organization with Hundley and has long been considered something of a godfather to Valentine, but patching up this feud is going to be a neat trick.
Hundley is convinced that Valentine was the unnamed Mets source that intimated in one of the New York tabloids last year that the veteran catcher might have a drinking problem.
Corporate sponsorship isn't always pretty. The day the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ceremoniously renamed their St. Petersburg spring training home Florida Power Park, Home of Al Lang Field, the stadium experienced a power failure that prevented the Devil Rays' lineup from being introduced.
The Oakland Athletics are going to have their work cut out for them in April and the first half of May. Six American League teams won 85 or more games in 1988 and the A's play all of them during the first five weeks of the season. In all, they play 23 of their first 30 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Indians, Rangers and Blue Jays.