(Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore…)
While Orioles fans are already freaking out at the prospect of a 13th straight summer of losing here in Baltimore, Adam Jones -- one of the coolest customers in Major League Baseball -- is optimistic.
"We're heading in the right direction," the slick Orioles center fielder assured me over the phone last week. "The sky's the limit."
Of course he's upbeat about the Orioles' chances. It's that time of the year when hope springs eternal for all 30 major-league squads, even ones owned by Peter Angelos. After all, Baltimore is in a 14-way tie for a playoff spot right now -- with a mere 162 games left to play.
(Also, Jones has spent the past three weeks playing baseball in sunny Sarasota, Fla., while we got monsooned over the weekend. I'm sure that has Jones feeling chipper, too.)
For many bitter Baltimore fans, though, the warm and fuzzy feelings of spring training quickly faded after the Orioles -- still preaching patience despite not breaking the .500 mark since 1997 -- lost a few spring exhibitions. That's to be expected when the hometown team has been so consistently bad that fans have resorted to saying "Well, thereÃÂs always the year after next year."
It isnÃÂt Jones' fault. He was 12 when the Orioles' losing skid started. The team's other budding stars, guys such as Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz, were even younger. Yet they are unfairly burdened by the fans' disgruntlement as they try to clean up the mess. "I've only been here for two seasons," Jones said, "so I don't completely understand the full frustration." He sounds tired of being asked if this is the year the Orioles end more than a decade of mediocrity, but he says the 2010 Orioles feel no added pressure to perform.
"At the end of the day, you have to go out and play the game," he said. "That's why we're here. We all want to win."
Jones expects the Orioles to compete for the A.L. East title this season -- seriously. And he wasn't just saying that because of the warm weather and the team's clean slate.
He pointed to the Orioles' talented young nucleus, just now starting to scratch the surface of its potential, and the "good moves" the team made this winter as reasons for fans to be as optimistic about the Orioles as he is. Those moves include the acquisition of veteran starting pitcher Kevin Millwood, the signing of closer Mike Gonzalez and the return of slugger Miguel Tejada.
However, while listing things to be excited about on Opening Day, Jones failed to mention the future perennial All-Star who blows big, pink bubble-gum balloons while patrolling center field at Camden Yards.
I'm calling it now: Jones will have a monster season.
Barring injury, there's no way he wonÃÂt. He had a breakout first half in 2009, hitting .303 before making his first All-Star Game appearance. Sure, a nasty slump in August and a fluke season-ending ankle injury in September put a damper on Jones' second year in the big leagues. But the talent, the determination and the attitude are all there. He doesn't just want success. He expects it. Even if you don't.
"We didn't come in to [spring training] thinking we're going to lose to the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Rays," Jones said. "We came in thinking that we're about to beat the hell out of them. Let's do it."
Matt Vensel is a content creator for b. Follow him on Twitter, @mattvensel.