Do Orioles have tools to build off Hunter's sturdy optimism?

April 03, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Jim Hunter didn't sleep a wink last night. Opening Day is what passes for Christmas morning in Jimmyville, so he was tossing and turning all night and wondering if jolly old St. Angelos would finally be bringing Baltimore a winning baseball team.

Apparently, we've all been bad boys and girls the past eight years, because the Orioles have finished below .500 in every season since 1997, but Jimmy refuses to give up hope. He got so excited last year - while the Orioles were spending 62 straight days in first place - they had to turn down his microphone because he kept drowning out Fred Manfra's wardrobe.

I have to admit that I got caught up in his enthusiasm. I bought one of the first condominiums in Jimmyville, and I believe it was a year ago today that I predicted the Orioles would finish second in the American League East.

(Actually, that prediction was printed in The Sun on April 4, 2005, but I wrote it a year ago today and felt pretty good about it until the Orioles decided to spend July and August proving that Isaac Newton knew a little something about the constant speed of falling objects.)

Trust me, I won't be making the same mistake this year. I sold the Jimmyville place in late July, right before the Rafael Palmeiro chemical spill that forced the evacuation of the whole development. The last time I drove by, the only structure still standing was the Hunt Mansion, where Jimmy spent the final days of the season wandering the dark halls and cryptically muttering the word "Rosebud."

Things weren't much better during the offseason, what with Miggy telling everyone that he might need "a change of scenery" and the Blue Jays convincing B.J. Ryan that you can live pretty good in Canada on $47 million (U.S.). It got so bad I was worried Jimmy might just chuck the whole Orioles thing and show up at M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens' cheerleader tryouts.

I can just hear him: "What has Molly Shattuck got that I don't?"

Answer: A husband who just found out he owes BGE customers $528 million.

I was concerned about the other broadcasters, too. I was worried that Joe Angel would get sunstroke if he kept playing golf six days a week in Florida and Manfra might accidentally fall off one of those big cruise ships, causing a sudden rise in sea level that could threaten coastal communities all along the Eastern seaboard.

(I know, that wasn't very nice, but it was Fred who started the weight-bashing during interleague play last summer, and I don't think the statute of limitations has run out yet.)

I'm actually a big fan of both Joe and Fred. I get a kick out of it every time Joe says that the Orioles "are in the WIN column," and I think Fred has the nicest collection of half-priced Tommy Bahama shirts I've ever seen. Hunter shows up occasionally in a nice golf shirt, but you can only see the collar under the Melvin Mora jersey and the Orioles warm-up jacket.

If it was a difficult offseason, it was an even tougher spring for Jimmy, who could see right away that the World Baseball Classic was going to have a big effect on the Orioles in spring training.

He was understandably relieved that everyone would be speaking English for the first three weeks of the exhibition season, but there was no way to sugarcoat the loss of four starting pitchers and all the club's frontline catchers for nearly half of camp. He tried to help the best way he could ... by spending the intervening weeks figuring out how to pronounce Markakis and cruising Lauderdale Beach in search of a tattoo artist who could draw a passable portrait of Leo Mazzone on his right biceps.

Through eight months of adversity, however, Hunter somehow maintained his seemingly eternal sense of optimism and will again be wearing a rented tuxedo and holding the microphone when the Orioles come down the orange carpet this afternoon to open the 2006 season.

The Orioles may be picked by some (including me) to finish fourth in the American League East this year, but they are pouring foundations again in Jimmyville just in case.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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