As full-squad workouts start, Showalter makes impression on Orioles

Surprise highlight film gets players excited, determined to improve

February 21, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — They walked into Ed Smith Stadium on Sunday night in waves, only to be diverted back out to the parking lot and into two buses. From there, they went to a local movie theater, where the Orioles got indoctrinated to the motivation tactics of manager Buck Showalter.

After an introduction of the team's front office, training and coaching staffs, Showalter played a 12-minute movie that highlighted the Orioles' storied past and what he hopes will be a better future.

The message was simple: There are no more excuses. The team's roster has been significantly upgraded, and it's time to perform.

"I was ready to fight [Mike] Tyson last night," said first baseman Derrek Lee, one of several offensive additions made to strengthen the team's lineup. "I had goose bumps. I think we're going to have to show that movie before Opening Day, too, and maybe after the All-Star break."

With all the player physicals and tedious introductory meetings behind them, the 2011 Orioles officially took the field for the first time as a full team at about 11:45 Monday morning.

Over the next three hours, Vladimir Guerrero, the hulking slugger with 436 career home runs whose signing with the Orioles became official just last week, bashed a few balls over the fence during batting practice. Lee adeptly handled some ground balls at first base, while healthy second baseman Brian Roberts and new shortstop J.J. Hardy got acquainted by turning a few double plays. Likely Opening Day starter Jeremy Guthrie pounded catcher Matt Wieters' mitt in live batting practice.

Showalter, who took over an Orioles team flirting with historical futility in 2010 and guided it to an uplifting 34-23 finish, watched it all, walking from field-to-field at Ed Smith Stadium with his orange fungo bat in hand.

"To finally get them out there, this was kind of the first sign of all the things that [president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and owner Peter Angelos] have allowed us to do," Showalter said.

Showalter, who engineered turnarounds with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees and shepherded the Arizona Diamondbacks out of expansion, is known for his precise planning and intense attention to detail. Both qualities were evident to the Orioles on Sunday night.

The manager called the team meeting Sunday to break up the monotony of the first full day of spring, which usually includes hours of physicals and meetings before the players finally take the field in the early afternoon. It also gave him an opportunity to build camaraderie on a retooled roster.

Players acknowledged that they were surprised to arrive at the stadium and be told that they were headed elsewhere in buses. "When I saw it on the board — a team meeting at 6 o'clock — I thought, 'What the heck?' It's something that I've never done before," veteran reliever Mark Hendrickson said.

The movie, created in part by team video coordinator Michael Silverman and producer Ben Epstein, took nearly three weeks to make. It was set to the latest pop tunes with Showalter joking that he recognized only one of the songs, a Garth Brooks number that had the manager humming along.

It included highlights from the individual players, clips from the team's World Series victories, and footage from a couple of the infamous brawls in team history, including the night at Yankee Stadium when Alan Mills slugged Darryl Strawberry.

"Too bad we didn't have a game last night," said third baseman Mark Reynolds, another first-year Oriole. "Most of us were ready to roll."

Said young starter Chris Tillman: "The whole thing [Sunday] night and coming into today, that hit deep for a lot of people. You're starting to see everybody buying into it. I know going home, me and Brian [Matusz] were saying, 'Wow, that was awesome!' It's an exciting time, seeing where we went from last year to now. It's an exciting transition."

That transition continued in the first full workout. With the bleachers mostly filled on a sun-drenched day, Showalter and his coaching staff put their team through infield and outfield drills, then the pitchers and hitters took part in batting practice.

"In my BP group, it was Reynolds; Lee, even though he's not really hitting yet; J.J.; Cesar [Izturis]. I just looked around and said, 'Man, this is a talented group of players,'" said Roberts, the longest-tenured Oriole. "Obviously, at times over the years, we've had talented pieces in different places. But I think as a core and as a group, this is as talented as we've been in a long time. It's getting close to put-up-or-shut-up time in this clubhouse and in this organization. Andy and Mr. Angelos have really gone out and done a great job and opened things up for us. They've provided us with an opportunity to go out there as players and make it happen."

Roberts said he initially found it strange to be at a movie theater Sunday until he realized what was going on. Center fielder Adam Jones said the fact that the veterans and younger players were still talking about the video suggests that the team "got the message."

"You walk into the clubhouse, you can feel the vibe yourself, right?" Jones asked reporters. "I've never honestly walked into a clubhouse and felt that way until I walk in here. There's a sense of pride. Everybody knows what's at stake. We want to go out and stop getting our [butts] kicked and start kicking people's [butts]. Point blank."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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