Rites (and right-handers) of spring

Our view

April 08, 2010

Ah, spring. Baltimore and baseball go together this time of year like tulips and Sherwood Gardens, lacrosse and weekends, or peppermint sticks and lemons at the Flowermart. No matter how woeful the Orioles have performed over the past dozen years, it's difficult not to get swept up (at least a little bit) in the possibilities of a new season.

Yes, yes, we will be the first to admit that the team's lackluster performance in spring training was nothing to get too excited about. Memories of last season's miserable pitching and customary fifth place division finish are still fresh. There are already injuries and concerns about closer Mike Gonzalez.

But when the Orioles take the field at Camden Yards today (Friday) for their home opener, you can be that fans will be cheering and appreciative. One can feel a sense of optimism in the air like so many cherry blossom petals. The team's rebuilding effort has collected too many genuinely talented players to ignore from Adam Jones to Matt Wieters with enough solid veterans to hold them together.

These are not contenders for an American League pennant. (We may be optimistic but we are not yet delusional). But there is a reason why Tuesday's opening game was the highest rated Orioles game in MASN's brief history. Local fans feel good about the direction things are going. They may not produce 98 wins, but they aren't necessarily a 98-loss team as they were last year and that's progress.

For as much as the high-flying Ravens have endeared themselves to Baltimore, we are at heart a baseball town. Box scores and Orioles chatter are as much a part of this city's social fabric from April to October as crabs and beer. Mike Cuellar's death last week was a reminder of the great Orioles teams of the past — and just how much he and they meant to us.

The reservoir of good will Marylanders have for the Orioles is both deep and wide. Naysayers may point to lowered ballpark attendance in recent years, but the real surprise is that ticket sales have not fallen further, particularly given the team's lackluster performance on the field.

Patience is the watchword for now; fans are not likely to scream for manger Dave Trembley's head on a pike, at least not in 2010. Pay no mind the braying of newspaper sports columnists, bloggers and talk show hosts, complaining about the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos is just another sign of this community's affection for them.

At least for a day, even the most hardcore cynic can leave concerns about competitive imbalances within Major League Baseball, performance-enhancing drugs, excessive player salaries, and high ticket prices aside and root, root, root for the home team. Another season is upon us in the green, welcoming and familiar confines of Oriole Park. As usual in Baltimore, hope springs eternal.

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