Orioles give fans hope, but sense of doom lingers

May 27, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

If you were an Orioles fan at Camden Yards on Sunday, it was a game that whipsawed your emotions.

Oh, you were pumped before it started, weren't you?

Your team was all alone in first place in the American League East. You were part of a great crowd (an announced 33,919) in a wonderful setting, with thousands of Little Leaguers parading around the field and the Orioles wearing camouflage uniforms for Military Appreciation Day.

(Baseball players in camo -- George Carlin would have a field day with that one.)

Not to mention you were still buzzed from the news the Orioles had locked up star center fielder Adam Jones for the next six years.

Maybe you dared to think: "This is what Orioles baseball should be. Right here, right now, it's about as perfect as you could hope for."

Then a little more than three hours later, your mood shifted, didn't it? Gloom set in.

Oh, not heavy-duty, throw-yourself-off-a-cliff gloom. But the Orioles' 4-2 loss to the last-place Royals -- their second in a row to a bad Kansas City team -- definitely took a lot of the joy out of the place.

Was it cause for concern? Maybe.

Sure, the Orioles are still tied for first place in the division this morning. But it's just as clear this team has officially hit a rough patch, losing five of its past seven as it starts a big three-game series tonight in Toronto, part of a nine-game road trip that moves on to Tampa Bay and Boston.

Still, if you were an Orioles fan who wanted to stay focused on the positive Sunday, the Adam Jones extension was huge.

For an Orioles team that's been tone-deaf for years in the public relations department, signing the popular center fielder was definitely a sign that management was listening -- finally -- to the fans.

"I think it's important that Orioles fans know we're committed to having a winning team," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said when the club made Jones' signing official. "And one of the keys to having a winning team year in and year out is having players in your lineup that are dependable that can stabilize your team. So Adam Jones stablizes our team.

"... He hits in the middle of the lineup. He uses his speed to put pressure on the other teams offensively, and he helps stablilize our pitching staff by patrolling center field at an elite level.

"... So we're telling Orioles fans we're committed to this player, we're committed to putting a winning team on the field and we're committed to providing hope to building our fan base."

Hope is exactly what Orioles fans need after 14 straight losing seasons, of course.

But let's not kid ourselves. If the Orioles had gotten off to another train wreck of a spring, the Jones contract extension would have never happened -- at least not this early in the season.

And if Jones himself weren't off to a red-hot start -- .308 batting average, 14homers, 31 RBIs, a career-high 18-game hitting streak -- the deal would have never gone down, either.

"They'd probably want to get rid of me," he joked the other day.

But as I wandered around Camden Yards on Sunday, the fans I spoke to didn't seem to care about the machinations behind the extension.

"I think it's great," said Rocky Arocho of Baltimore. "I think it's going to bring a lot to Baltimore. I think the team needs someone to rally around, and he might be the guy."

Then Arocho paused and smiled.

"Of course, we'll see how he's doing in August," Arocho said. "We'll see how the team's doing, too."

Yep, there was the famous fatalism of Orioles fans at work. And who could blame Arocho for thinking that way?

It's what so many fans have done for the first two months of the season: rooted for the Orioles with cautious optimism while wondering whether this team would collapse in August and September, as so many Orioles teams have.

This is an entire region waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But Ken Katz of Columbia said it seemed the Orioles were moving in the right direction with their recent signings.

"I'm more optimistic because they have a very good corps of young players they've locked up," he said, referring to Jones, shortstop J.J. Hardy, right fielder Nick Markakis and catcher Matt Wieters, who's not eligible for free agency until the end of the 2015 season.

Then he pointed to his son, Jordan, a ninth-grader at Hammond High in Howard County, and said: "He's never seen a winning Orioles team."

Maybe he'll see one this year, maybe he won't.

But at least this year, Jordan said, he's not taking the same abuse he took in the past for being an Orioles fan.

"I used to get: 'You should be rooting for the Red Sox or the Yankees because the Orioles [stink]," he said.

And now?

"I'm getting it significantly less," Jordan said.

The Katz's take that as a sign of progress.

The Orioles probably should, too.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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