Trying to field the questions about the Orioles

April 04, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

IT'S OPENING DAY and you're a huge Orioles fan, so you plan to be at Camden Yards this afternoon, ignoring all the dilettantes yakking on their cell phones and swilling their $7 microbrews and elbowing their friends to ask: "Which one is Sammy Sosa again?"

But you have questions about this team.

Oh, do you have questions.

To you, the Orioles are The Da Vinci Code of baseball, and you're dying to know the following:

How good will this team be?

The short answer: Who knows?

The Orioles added the mighty bat of Sosa to a lineup that already had opposing pitchers chugging Maalox before they took the mound.

But the O's own pitching is iffy. And they still have to take on the rich and powerful Yankees and Red Sox, which is sort of like asking Joe's Hardware to compete with Home Depot and Lowe's.

Are any of our guys on the juice?

In the wake of the steroid scandal, this will be a favorite pastime of baseball fans: deciding which players are on the juice - and which ones were on the juice when all those home run records were set. But consider this: Now that baseball has a testing policy in place - and everyone from Congress to your grandmother gets worked up over the subject - how stupid would a player have to be to still be taking steroids?

Answer: very, very stupid.

No wonder so many players reported to spring training slimmer than in the past, without the bulging biceps, thick necks and enormous heads they used to have.

Now most of them look about as pumped-up as Katie Couric.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions.

Sosa, for instance, still looks like he could play outside linebacker for the Ravens.

And Barry Bonds could have bench-pressed a Hummer before a knee injury sidelined him this spring.

But for the most part, the Paul Bunyan look is out with major leaguers this year.

OK, maybe our guys aren't on the juice. But they sure like to party, don't they?

Look, this isn't Animal House on the Chesapeake.

Sure, pitcher Sidney Ponson seemed to spend the off-season working on the three D's: drinking, driving and duking.

And left-hander Eric Dubose prepped for a start in Florida by getting popped for DWI the night before.

But the team is mostly stocked with solid citizens who won't make headlines by getting in bar brawls and refusing Breathalyzer tests at 2 a.m.

Memo to any Orioles tempted to have a few cocktails and reach for the car keys: Fellas, you're in the major leagues now, OK? You make millions of dollars.

Next time you're hammered and want to go somewhere, take a taxi.

Or hire a limo.

It's a good way to stay out of jail - and out of a body bag.

How much will the Nationals, the new team in D.C., affect the Orioles?

Answer: a whole bunch.

No wonder Peter Angelos looks like someone ran over his dog this spring.

The man knows what's coming.

Which would you rather do if you lived in Washington or northern Virginia: leave work two hours early, sit in horrendous traffic on I-95 and arrive in the second inning for a game at Camden Yards, or relax and go see a team closer to home?

Yep, you'll definitely see a few more empty seats at Camden Yards this season.

But what will we do without all those stereotypical quiche-eating, Chablis-sipping Washington fans to kick around?

Will the Orioles and Nationals ever develop a great, storied rivalry like Yankees-Red Sox or Dodgers-Giants?

Maybe someday.

The two teams don't play each other until next year. But after that it would be nice to see a blood-feud develop.

Let's face it: Nothing spices up a four-game series in August or September like a good dose of pure, unbridled hatred for the other team.

Nothing says "pennant fever" like howling mobs of beered-up fans from two teams going at each other like the very fate of the nation is at stake.

Did you happen to catch the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated?

There, behind a banner proclaiming "Showdown '05," were the Yankees' Derek Jeter and the Red Sox's Johnny Damon, each with his arms crossed, gazing at the other guy as if he were three-day old garbage.

Oh, it was a beautiful thing.

Maybe in a few years we'll see the O's Miguel Tejada and the Nats' Jose Vidro exchanging death stares in a national magazine.

Rivalry-wise, that's when you know you're big-time.

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