Opening Day

The O's: Answers to off-season unknowns begin to unfold as the timeless game reawakens today.

April 01, 2002

TODAY, FINALLY, the business of Major League Baseball - the increasingly incessant wrangling over contracts, revenues, franchises - will compete for attention with balls and strikes, and the enduring flow of the game itself.

For Orioles' fans, the first pitch against the hated Yankees shortly after 3 p.m. will mark the beginning of on-the-field answers to a seemingly endless chain of off-season questions.

Coming off four straight losing seasons - for the first time in the 48-year history of one of baseball's most successful franchises - expectations for success are, to say the least, modest.

As the old, often understated baseball saw goes, the O's appear to be a few years away from contending.

Another understatement: This year's version of the O's has a lot of unknowns, mainly involving its younger players. The team seems particularly vulnerable if one of several key veterans falls to injury.

But it has a stable of young arms that may rise to the occasion and some possible stars in the making.

The consensus is that break-even ball might be possible. The 2002 season is not likely to be 1988, the O's worst ever, when they lost their first 21 games and 107 altogether. Nor is it likely to be 1989, when they suddenly staged an exciting turnaround and contended for the American League East title.

Significantly, the O's are the rare major-market club without a superstar. For the first time since 1982, Cal Ripken is not in the opening day lineup. Brady Anderson is gone as well.

That may hasten the club's attendance slide. But on the flip side, it may be easier to get a seat within the still striking tableau of Camden Yards, arguably the best venue in all of baseball.

Moreover, this club's collection of strivers may be one of the keys to really liking - even adopting - this team. That's something that really hasn't happened for a few years and that has become far too unusual in pro sports.

So let the game begin. That's the beauty of it.

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