The new wave already was rolling in, so Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail probably figured there was no sense trying to hold back the tide - or top prospect Matt Wieters - any longer.
"It's time," he said.
MacPhail surprised just about everyone with his announcement during the second inning of Tuesday night's MASN telecast, telling broadcasters Gary Thorne and Buck Martinez that Wieters will be coming up Friday to make his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards.
Those were the words that Orioles fans have been waiting to hear since Wieters became one of the most prized draft picks in club history in 2007. The waiting for Wieters became almost unbearable as he tore through two levels of the minor league system last year and batted .333 in the Grapefruit League this spring. The clock began ticking louder when he bounced back from an April hamstring injury and started to heat up at the plate at Triple-A Norfolk during the past couple of weeks.
Still, it appeared until last night that Wieters would either join the team in Seattle next week or make his long-awaited debut when the Orioles returned from that weeklong West Coast road trip.
I guess MacPhail, like his team's largely disaffected fan base, couldn't wait another week.
"He's ready," MacPhail said, perhaps only coincidentally on the night the Orioles drew the smallest paid crowd (10,130) in the history of Oriole Park.
So is everyone else. Wieters represents much more than just one new face on a team in transition. He is the embodiment of the new era that Orioles fans have been awaiting for more than a decade. He is the jewel of a rebuilding plan that has gathered steam with a series of recent roster moves, including the one that put Triple-A Norfolk call-up Jason Berken on the mound to deliver a scrappy five-inning performance against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
The changeover has been swift - so swift that it's getting to the point where you can't tell the players without a Norfolk program. Brad Bergesen was called up in April to replace Alfredo Simon. Nolan Reimold came up two weeks ago and took over most of the playing time in left field. Rich Hill came off the disabled list 11 days ago to deliver a pair of solid starts against the Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals. Berken wasn't even through his third inning when MacPhail made the Wieters announcement and hinted that another Triple-A pitcher could be headed here to make Thursday night's start.
Not sure how that's going to play out, but it appears that Koji Uehara will go on the disabled list and right-hander David Hernandez will give the Orioles a 60 percent Norfolk rotation. Wieters should feel right at home when he walks into his first pitchers meeting Friday afternoon.
Fans have a right to be excited, but they also need to be realistic. This is still a transitional season, and some of those players are likely to have a bumpy ride as the competition and the advance scouting reports start to catch up with them. That's all part of the process, but at least the process is now clearly pointed toward the future, with the cream of the pitching prospects still in development.
MacPhail hinted at that during a pair of interviews with The Baltimore Sun over the weekend. He talked about the recent seasons in which the Orioles got off to decent starts, only to hurtle off a competitive cliff at the end. He talked about his hope that - in the wake of this year's rocky start - the Orioles would reverse that trend and finish this season on an upswing that would build hope for 2010. The first step was to build "inventory" at the minor league level and give the top prospects a chance to have success there. The next step is to bring those players up at the right time, both for the players and the organization. For those who wanted to see Wieters and the other elite prospects earlier, MacPhail has an easy answer.
"It's really important for us to assure that there's some foundation under them," he said during the late innings of Tuesday night's game. "They don't have to hit .300, but you don't want them to come up here before they're ready and have to be sent back."
Who knows how this group of unproven young players will perform the rest of the way, but one thing is certain. The 2009 season, which seemed so hopeless a few days ago, suddenly is relevant again. Every remaining game has an extra layer of meaning. The future will be right here in front of your eyes, and there is more to come.
Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).