Ending aside, O's know how to put on a home opener

April 10, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

They opened the gates at noon Friday, and the sun came out as if on cue, and Camden Yards was a baseball cathedral again, the surest sign yet that the long, horrible winter was officially over.

This was the home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Orioles did it up right, as they always do.

Let me tell you this: If the Orioles could play baseball as well as they put on Opening Day, this would be one heck of a team to watch.

Instead, there was another heartbreaking loss Friday, 7-6 to the Blue Jays, on another sensational blowup by new closer Michael Gonzalez, who was booed off the mound.

Before all that Gonzo ugliness, though, the Orioles hit all the high notes in their pre-game festivities.

They introduced 85-year-old Ernie Tyler, starting his 51st season as the Orioles "ball boy," to a warm ovation, and then Dave Trembley and the Orioles players ran in from center field on a bright orange carpet, and rockets exploded in the sky - and for a moment you could almost forget the 12 losing seasons and the negative vibe that clings to this team like a bad odor.

If you ask me, this was the Orioles' best move of all Friday: The great Brooks Robinson was in the house.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1970 World Series win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Orioles asked Brooks and Boog Powell to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Brooks, the Most Valuable Player of that series, who made one electrifying play after another against the Reds, fired a ball - OK, maybe "fired" isn't the word - to Miguel Tejada, old third baseman to new third baseman.

Boog, the American League's MVP that season and now a famous barbecue hawker in these parts, threw to fellow first baseman Garrett Atkins.

And if some deeper symbolism was intended here, the old champions returning to give the new guys a glimpse of the once-vaunted "Orioles Way," well, there ought to be more of that around this team, which needs all the good karma and positive PR it can get.

"It was wonderful," Brooks said of his Opening Day experience. "You know, when I first started playing, there was a jeweler in town who gave a diamond away for the first home run [of the season]. I got a couple of those."

A diamond for a homer - when was that, 1910?

But, no, it was only 55 years ago. As they say, you could look it up.

Luckily for Brooks, he had another engagement Friday and was whisked out of the stadium soon after the first pitch, sparing him the sight of the Orioles self-immolating on their way to a 1-3 start and the two trespassers taken from the field in handcuffs in the ninth inning.

You don't see Brooks around the ballpark much anymore, which is a shame. But give the Orioles credit for making sure he was there for this one.

The Orioles and Brooks insist there's nothing wrong with their relationship despite rumors that there's a rift between him and Peter Angelos.

Brooks tells you over and over again that's not true, that he simply can't commit to making as many appearances as the Orioles would like. (He still has a home in Owings Mills but stays busy as president of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and minority owner of independent league teams in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

Whatever the truth is, the sellout crowd of 48,891 seemed thrilled that he was there.

"It's great to see him," said John D'Amato, 57, of Ellicott City, taking in the game with his 17-year-old son, Will. "Anytime the old guys aren't part of the team, it's a loss. There are enough traditions going away as it is."

It's no secret that Brooks has had a rough go of it healthwise in the past couple of years.

He had a scare with prostate cancer in 2009 before undergoing successful radiation treatment. And last December, he had serious abdominal surgery that hospitalized him for three weeks and still has him looking frail and feeling less than 100 percent.

But he said he has a number of appearances planned with the team this year, including a few celebrating the 1970 world champions.

God knows the Orioles need him as a goodwill ambassador, especially if there are many more games like Friday's down the road.

It was a rough home opener for this team, that's for sure. And a rough start to the season for Orioles fans.

Maybe seeing Brooks and Boog out there made it a little easier to take.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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