Grand opening

Fans savor the Orioles' potential this year and, oh yeah, whipping the Yankees

Orioles 10 Yankees 5

April 07, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

Baltimore fans always show support for the Orioles on Opening Day. Then the optimism fades as the losses mount.

But at Camden Yards stadium Monday, fans, players and team management said they had every reason to feel good about the direction of the Orioles - and not just because of a 10-5 victory over the New York Yankees, their biggest rival.

In many respects, the Orioles' future appears brighter than it has in years.

The club has signed its two best players, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, to long-term contracts.

Gifted young outfielders Adam Jones and Felix Pie are in the big leagues and expected to improve this season.

Catcher Matt Wieters and starting pitchers Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman are consensus top-50 prospects in baseball and could arrive soon.

"Really, the best is yet to come," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley.

"We have better players on the way than what we've had in our system in a long time."

Yet even after 11 straight losing seasons, a record crowd of 48,607 showed up Monday, helped by a contingent of Yankees fans.

They saw Roberts and Jones lead the Orioles to a 6-1 lead, knocking out Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia, and then add four runs in the eighth inning to put the game away.

Orioles fans belted out the "O" during the "Star-Spangled Banner," cheered wildly when Roberts and Markakis were introduced and roared with thunderous boos any time hometown boy-turned-New York Yankee Mark Teixeira came to the plate.

"Starting last year and definitely now, it feels good to be an O's fan," said Stephen Decker of Bel Air. "I haven't felt that for a while.

"With the Ravens, you're always proud to go out and say you're a fan, but for a long time you couldn't do that with the Orioles."

"Yeah, the stigma is slowly going away," said his friend, Paul Dircks of Baltimore.

Veterans such as Roberts and Markakis saw the emerging talent during spring training, and the anticipation has lifted spirits in the Orioles clubhouse, Trembley said.

"They can see the light," he said of his established stars.

Fans see it as well.

Decker sounded almost pleased at the idea of enduring another losing season while the youngsters develop.

"It takes time to win the right way and by that, I mean to draft good players and develop them," he said. "I don't want to win the way the Yankees have by just buying a bunch of guys."

"It's all right to be patient," Dircks agreed.

With pennant contention a longshot, fans said they'll content themselves with shorter-term pleasures.

A pre-game mention of the club's new road jerseys, with Baltimore across the chest, drew one of the day's biggest ovations.

"True O's fans are excited to have a little more pride in our city," Dircks said.

"One of the things I'm looking forward to most this season is wearing my new Baltimore jersey."

The Orioles will also debut their first Japanese signee, Koji Uehara, on Wednesday.

Uehara brings control and experience to the mound and an excited pack of Japanese reporters to the clubhouse.

Of course, contention remains the ultimate dream. With the Yankees in town, the Orioles saw a reminder of how far they have to climb.

While most teams tightened their belts in the offseason, the Yankees took on more than $400 million in new contracts.

They took the field Monday behind their new $161 million ace, Sabathia.

At first base stood Teixeira, the $180 million slugger once thought to be a viable target for the Orioles because of his Severna Park roots.

No matter how intelligently the Orioles build their team, financial leviathans such as the Yankees and Boston Red Sox will remain formidable roadblocks to the top of the American League East.

Trembley said patience will be a key element to the club's mix. Fans said Trembley and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail have earned their faith.

"It won't happen this year," said Fred Reinecke of Baltimore, who attended the opener with his son, Brooks (named after guess who.) "If you're expecting that, you're just going to disappoint yourself."

Reinecke was one of many fans who said they're content taking the long view.

He bought season tickets for the Orioles for 13 years but hasn't for the past five. The slow, steady rebuild has him thinking about buying a plan again.

"We could be the next Rays," he said, referring to Tampa Bay's rise from last place to the World Series last year.

"They're absolutely moving in the right direction," said Reinecke's friend, Dan Seeberger of Dundalk.

SEASON FIRSTS

FIRST CEREMONIAL PITCH: From Vice President Joe Biden to Orioles catcher Chad Moeller. It was slow and high, but an upright Moeller made sure it wasn't wild.

FIRST REAL PITCH: The Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie to New York's Derek Jeter at 4:25 p.m. It was a strike on the outside corner.

FIRST HIT: Moments after the first pitch. Jeter scorched a single up the middle against Guthrie.

FIRST RUN: Yankees rookie Brett Gardner scoring from third on a sacrifice fly by Johnny Damon in the third inning for an early Yankees lead.

FIRST BOO: About 1:40 p.m., nearly three hours before game time, when Mark Teixeira left the visiting dugout to do an interview on the field with the YES Network. Plenty of boos and some shouts of "sellout" followed.

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