Optimism springs eternal at Orioles' first workout

Team given warm reception in new Sarasota home

February 19, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

SARASOTA, Fla. — Under blue skies and unseasonably chilly weather, the Orioles began preparations for their 2010 season and what they hope will be a long and productive run at Ed Smith Stadium.

About 250 fans turned out at the stadium complex to watch the first spring workout for pitchers and catchers, and to greet the Orioles, who had trained in virtual anonymity in Fort Lauderdale for much of the previous 14 years.

"It was fun to be out here today, a lot of fun," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who spent part of the workout signing autographs and interacting with fans. "There are a lot of people from Baltimore that are down here. They just seem to be really friendly, very nice [and] very glad that the Orioles are here. I think that's going to go a long way."

It was largely an uneventful day, as the first spring workouts usually are. Players spent the morning taking physicals and sitting through a meeting, and didn't head out to the back fields at the Ed Smith complex until just before noon.

When they did, they found a small crowd, many of whom had arrived hours earlier in anticipation of the morning workout. Orioles reliever Jim Johnson, who lives in Sarasota, joked that he had never seen fans at spring training, a reference to the scant few that attended spring workouts at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Pitcher Brad Bergesen also was taken aback at first by the reception.

"I didn't think anybody would be out there this soon," Bergesen said. "When I walked out there, I thought it was just a ton of media at first."

Doug Simpkins, captain of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department and a die-hard Orioles fan, arrived in Sarasota on Sunday, happy to leave the snow behind him. He visits Florida spring training sites every year and said the number of fans in attendance Thursday was far more than the Cincinnati Reds got last spring. The Reds trained at Ed Smith Stadium for nearly a decade before leaving for Arizona.

"This is so much easier, and it's a nicer facility for the Orioles," said Simpkins, who unzipped his jacket - temperatures were in the low 60s - to expose an Orioles polo shirt. "It has so much more to offer."

Simpkins said he is optimistic about the Orioles' future.

"They are making all the right moves, but stuff doesn't happen overnight," he said. "It's a growing process. I'm pretty excited about the season."

Russell Pryor Jr., a vice president at the Bank of Commerce on nearby Ringling Boulevard, decided a day at the ballpark was better than a day at the office. Pryor, who was born in Salisbury, moved to Florida in 1967 and never left. A lifelong fan, Pryor was thrilled by the Orioles' decision to move their spring training base here.

And there were plenty of fans at the workout like Kyle Young, 20, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University. Young roots mainly for the New York Yankees but said he's a baseball fan in general and likes some of the Orioles' top young players, including catcher Matt Wieters and pitcher Brian Matusz.

Wearing an Orioles hat with the cartoon bird, Young stood about 10 yards from where Wieters was engaged in catching drills and 20 yards from where Matusz was involved in fielding practice. Outfielders Adam Jones and Felix Pie, who reported early, were taking batting practice.

"They can only go up with the experience their pitchers have gained and all the young players around them," Young said.

That was pretty much the feeling of the Orioles players, who put on their uniforms for the first time in several months with a sense of optimism that hasn't always existed during the organization's stretch of 12 losing seasons.

"This is a lot of fun," said Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. "This is a great facility, a real nice change for us. It will be good for everybody involved. It's fun to come here and see the new guys in the Orioles uniform and see the familiar faces that will help us have a good year this year. I think it has the potential to be a great season for us. The biggest thing we look at is the people we were able to bring in. They were pieces we needed."

Veteran starter Kevin Millwood, one of those players, said, "It was nice to have the opportunity to put on the uniform again."

That rang true for Trembley, who talked with fans throughout the workout. A big Notre Dame football fan, he chided one young boy who wore a University of Florida hat, and reminisced with residents about his experiences in Sarasota as a minor league manager.

"This is a start of a long-term relationship between the Orioles and Sarasota, and we have to let them know that we appreciate what a lot of people have done to make this possible," Trembley said. "The game is for the fans, and the game is for the players. I think spring training is for the fans."

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