Long, strange road schedule could trip O's to start season

March 26, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

JUPITER, Fla. — JUPITER, Fla.-- --Every day for the past week, a bus has pulled out of the Orioles' spring training complex headed for another Grapefruit League road stop.

Every day for the next week, at least part of the Orioles' roster will be in a different city, and the season-opening trip to Minnesota and New York will - in effect - complete a seven-city trip that includes stops in Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Va.; Washington and Baltimore (for FanFest on April 1).

Sound like fun?

Not if you're a struggling franchise that badly needs to get off to a good start this year.

"We have the worst travel schedule in all of baseball, if you look at it," club vice president Jim Duquette said.

Tough to argue that point when the Orioles are scheduled to play just one full-squad game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium (tomorrow) between March 18 and the end of spring training. There are a couple of split-squad games this week, but some portion of the roster will have been on a bus or plane almost every day for two weeks when the Orioles open the season against the Twins at the Metrodome next Monday night.

"It's not something you would hope to do at this time of year, but we'll do the best we can with it," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I think the guys, once we get out of Florida, will be feeling Opening Day. That should take the bite out of the traveling."

Maybe so, but you have to wonder what strange confluence of logistical miscommunication put the Orioles in this position. The Grapefruit League schedule is primarily the responsibility of baseball's central office. The individual teams work out the details of the barnstorming exhibitions that take place outside of Florida during the weekend leading into the season openers.

The Orioles agreed to visit Norfolk as part of the deal to move their Triple-A operation there from Ottawa. The Nationals extended the same courtesy to their new affiliate in Columbus. Those games might not seem like such an imposition if the Orioles did not have the back-loaded road schedule in Florida or the rare two-city trip to open the season.

Duquette said the Orioles intend to file a complaint with Major League Baseball about the Grapefruit League imbalance.

"We're going to send an e-mail to make them aware of how bad the scheduling is," he said. "We're going to voice our concerns to [MLB vice president in charge of scheduling] Katy Feeney. We're not asking for more home games, just a fairer, more balanced schedule."

The Orioles already are at a geographical disadvantage in Florida, playing at the southernmost location on the East Coast while groups of teams are clustered in Fort Myers, Tampa and Jupiter.

"For us, it is what it is," executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "We deal with it. It has not been an easy travel spring, but it's not something we spend a lot of time complaining about or worrying about. The schedule is right there [on paper]. It has been right there."

Perhaps Flanagan is the one member of the front office who has been around the team long enough to count his blessings. The Orioles may be on a long road home, but it is nothing compared with 1991, when they played every exhibition game on the road.

"We never had a home game," Flanagan said. "We started out in Sarasota and moved up to St. Petersburg once the games started."

The Orioles got off to a difficult start that year, which led to the firing of manager Frank Robinson in May. Flanagan returned to the Orioles that year after spending parts of four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

"I don't know if that had any effect," Flanagan said. "It's amazing how quickly spring training is forgotten."

That might be true, but the Orioles already are at a spring training disadvantage with their minor league facility still located three hours away in Sarasota. The road-heavy schedule at the end of spring has created an added burden for a team hoping to build some chemistry and momentum going into the regular season.

"That's the kind of thing you have to be mentally tough about," Perlozzo said. "It's a test. There are going to be times when guys are going to be tired of traveling, so you have to give them a little leeway, and we're trying to do that."

Still, it's tough enough to go into Yankee Stadium without doing so at the end of what amounts to a whirlwind seven-city road trip, but that's what the Orioles will have to do 11 days from now.

"You can't use that as an excuse," Duquette said. "You travel and you deal with it. That's one of the things we talked about with the team at the start of the year. Let's not make excuses."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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