There are plenty of reasons I love Opening Day, not the least of which is the opportunity to see Jim Hunter in a tuxedo.
And that's no rental tux.
My man Hunter will be the master of ceremonies today for the pre-game festivities at Camden Yards, which means the afternoon will go off without a hitch unless Jim suddenly decides to jump on Andy MacPhail's Brutal Honesty Bandwagon and starts tackling guys on the orange carpet.
That's unlikely, but even Jimmy knows that this is going to be a rebuilding year and that he'll have to temper his expectations. I hear he's predicting the Orioles will win only 94 games.
I'm thinking maybe 66, and then we can spin it as a subtle tribute to the Orioles' first World Series championship team.
However you want to look at it, the events of the past few months have signaled that this beleaguered franchise is going in a new direction. Whether that direction is north remains to be seen.
The latest indicator came yesterday when the club released outfielder Jay Gibbons and swallowed whole the remaining $11.9 million he was guaranteed for the final two years of his contract.
It was not a shocking development, because everybody in the organization but the head groundskeeper has been sweating out the decision for the past week or so. But it was an enlightening one, since there were plenty of cynical fans who were convinced owner Peter Angelos would never put the rebuilding program in front of his bank account.
Angelos could afford to throw $11.9 million into the street if he wanted to, but it was still a big bite, and he apparently accepted it with far more grace than my last phone call.
"I gave him the ramifications," MacPhail said, "and ... was looking for some advice. His advice was, `You gotta do what you gotta do.' "
Now, you may not think that's a clear signal of organizational progress, but I certainly do. If any of his other GMs (OK, vice presidents of baseball operations) had called for advice on what to do with a bad contract, the advice would have been more like this:
"You gotta do what you gotta do, but whatever you do, do it after you put your house up for sale."
Angelos is clearly on board with MacPhail, which is one reason to view this Opening Day differently than any of the others in this decade. MacPhail has yet to run into significant ownership interference in his attempt to remake the team, and there isn't much left of the initial phase of reconstruction that hasn't been completed.
The only thing left is the Brian Roberts deal, which was initially viewed as the real litmus test for MacPhail's autonomy. It remains on hold, but apparently not because of any resistance from above.
In other words, MacPhail seems to have sufficient latitude to "do what he's gotta do," which should be viewed as an important step back toward respectability for a team that enters the 2008 season with little to offer its fans but some modest, incremental progress toward a long-term recovery.
That's not going to be good enough for everybody, and no one is obligated to stand up and cheer as the Orioles come down the carpet today, but it's hard to deny there has been a dynamic change in the way the franchise is being operated.
It might not be apparent from the Opening Day lineup, which includes only three players who weren't on the roster last year, but it should be obvious to anyone who has suffered through the most discouraging 10-year period in Orioles history.
Of course, you don't have to worry about Hunter. He's so excited, he wore his tux to Safeway yesterday.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.