First Orioles victory syrupy sweet for new pitching coach


Opening Day

April 04, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY

Anew era in Baltimore baseball started yesterday with terrible pancakes.

For years, Leo Mazzone had thought about this moment in time, rocking next to his best buddy, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, in the home dugout.

It finally happened yesterday -- the 15th Opening Day at Camden Yards and the first for Mazzone, the Orioles' new pitching coach/designated savior.

Before he rode to the ballpark with Perlozzo, Mazzone sat down at the breakfast table with his fiancee, Rebecca Polson. The way Mazzone tells it, they drank coffee, chatted a little about the day before and then Perlozzo arrived. Nothing eventful.

Polson, however, immediately comes clean. On his first day as an Oriole after 15 1/2 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Mazzone went to the ballpark hungry, thanks to a little cooking mishap.

"They were the worst pancakes I have ever made in my life. I think the batch of Bisquick was bad," Polson said with a laugh. "I love to cook, so it was kind of embarrassing. I wanted to send him off with a good breakfast, and we ended up throwing it in the trash can.

"Hopefully, he got a banana or yogurt in the clubhouse."

Moments after telling the story, Polson pointed her digital video camera at the JumboTron in center field, which showed Mazzone in the bullpen.

The crowd roared. Mazzone uncrossed his arms and waved. And Polson's eyes watered.

"I am scared to death," she said. "I just want this to go so well for him."

For his part, Mazzone's mood didn't change much early on.

Not when he was in the bullpen watching starter Rodrigo Lopez warm up while the pre-game fireworks were exploding. And not when Lopez surrendered four runs in the first three innings.

In fact, there were times when Lopez glanced in the dugout and Mazzone wasn't rhythmically moving back and forth in his trademark rock.

"Once in a while I saw him doing that, but I was surprised when he was still," Lopez joked. "You know, you're not supposed to do that. Where's the rocking thing?"

The calm began when Mazzone and Perlozzo, longtime friends from Western Maryland, shared a 30-minute car ride from Columbia to the ballpark. They had decided to go separately, but after the pancake debacle, Mazzone called his boss and told him to swing by. The conversation was limited, but relaxed.

"It all felt very normal. It felt right," Mazzone said before the game. "It just confirmed everything, that this was the right time and the right place after 15 years in one place."

It wasn't until new closer Chris Ray recorded the final out in the Orioles' 9-6 win against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that Mazzone let out an excited yelp.

"He yelled," Perlozzo said. "I mean, I've heard him yell, but it's usually yelling at the pitcher because he's ticked off about something. ... That was genuine excitement."

"He hadn't seen me do that because we hadn't been together in the dugout [for a real game] before," Mazzone said. "I am always excited with a win, but I was a little more than normal today. There was a lot of emotion going on, wanting to get this win, not only for Baltimore, but for Sam. I know he was thinking about a lot of things that were personal to him, and so was I a little bit."

At 3:04 p.m., five minutes before the first pitch, Mazzone walked to the top step of the dugout, looked into the crowd and found Polson and his dad, Anthony, 83. He flashed a thumbs up and disappeared back down the steps.

His dad has been to all of Mazzone's Opening Days in the big leagues, but this one was different, a little more special for father and son.

"It's the first one in Baltimore, and he has been with me from Little League until now," Mazzone, 57, said.

Truth is, Anthony Mazzone raised his son to be a New York Yankees fan. They would drive down to Memorial Stadium from Cumberland and cheer for the Yankees to beat the Orioles.

Yesterday, though, the dad sat a few rows behind home plate wearing a black "O's" cap with an orange bill.

"This is the first time I've put an Orioles hat on, the first day," Anthony Mazzone said. "I have to get used to it."

Meanwhile, the son is still getting used to Camden Yards. After high-fiving his pitchers and excitedly strutting into the clubhouse, Mazzone passed the coaches' room, turned the wrong way and ended up in the team's workout area.

One of his pitchers had to point him back in the right direction.

"I've done that about three times already," Mazzone said. "I end up in the equipment room or someplace else."

So Mazzone's first game day as an Oriole started with a wasted breakfast and ended with a wrong turn. But in the middle, Lopez gutted out a win, Ray picked up his first save and the club moved to 1-0 under its heralded new pitching coach.

"I just really wanted to hold up my end of the bargain," Mazzone said with a smile.

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