Spring Training Has Arrived…for Orioles Fans

7 things O’s fans should do before Opening Day

 

While all of us in the greater Baltimore region suffered through temperatures in the mid-40s – and prepared for another snowstorm later this week – the new Orioles held their first workout in sunny, 80-degree weather in Sarasota today.

Today’s first full-squad workout was the beginning of a new era of Orioles baseball, of course, as new general manager Mike Elias and new manager Brandon Hyde observed the drills while Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter were nowhere to be found.

Last year’s historic 115-loss season was painful for all Orioles fans, but it becomes a more distant memory with each passing day.

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And with only 38 days remaining until Opening Day of the 2019 season at Yankee Stadium, it’s time for Orioles fans to get serious about their very own Spring Training routine.

You see…with so many changes – on the field, in the dugout, in the executive suite and in the press box – there’s a lot O’s fans need to prepare for in order to be ready for the new season.

So with that in mind, here’s a quick list of 7 things all O’s fans should be sure to do before the first pitch is thrown on March 28:

1. Read Up on the New Regime – The Orioles’ decision to bring in Mike Elias from the Houston Astros to run their baseball operations received a tremendous amount of praise from the baseball media. Elias, of course, worked alongside Astros general manager Jeff Lunhow as that club successfully rebuilt itself in much the same way O’s fans are hoping to see here in Baltimore.

One advantage of the Elias hire – and the subsequent hire of Sig Mejdal as assistant GM – for O’s fans is that their recent success in Houston means that there is plenty we can examine to see how things might look in the new Orioles’ front office.

For example, Ben Reiter’s best-selling book, Astroball: The New Way to Win it All, is a deep dive into how the Houston Astros re-invented themselves and went from the worst team in baseball to World Champions in just a few years. The book is a quick read and is very informative as to what went into key decisions made by Lunhow and Elias – including the drafting of Carlos Correa with the #1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft.

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Astroball also includes a number of great insights into Sig Mejdal’s role within the organization and how he was a pioneer in the analytics movement that has swept baseball.

For more on Mejdal’s use of statistics in baseball – from before he was inside the game – Sam Walker’s Fantasyland is an interesting read. The book is a bit dated, but it provides an entertaining look at a Wall Street Journal writer’s quest to win a high-level “expert” fantasy baseball league back in 2004…and NASA scientist Sig Mejdal was Walker’s secret weapon for building his team.

 

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O’s fans who want to get a better understanding of the blueprint the team figures to build and follow in the years ahead will certainly enjoy reading Astroball. And fans looking for more background on Sig Mejdal’s journey from NASA to MLB should consider reading Fantasyland as well.

2. Adjust Your Twitter Follows – The offseason brought change in a number of areas that Orioles fans will notice beyond just the field. Eduardo Encina and Brittany Ghiroli are gone from the O’s regular beat – with Encina moving to Tampa and Ghiroli to Washington, DC.

With Joe Trezza taking over for Ghiroli with MLB.com, that leaves a “beat crew” roster of:

* Jon Meoli and Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun

* Rich Dubroff, BaltimoreBaseball.com

* Joe Trezza, MLB.com

* Roch Kubatko and Steve Melewski, MASN

* Dan Connolly, The Athletic

3. Prepare for Life Without Joe Angel – When the Orioles radio broadcast comes on the air this Saturday from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, the familiar phrase, “Hello again, baseball fans” will be missing.

Joe Angel’s retirement will be felt by all fans who enjoyed his radio broadcasts with the team, which began back in 1988…and resumed again full-time in 2004.

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Since Angel retired just prior to a new exhibition season, he did not enjoy a “farewell tour” in much the same way his longtime partner Fred Manfra did. So as a way of remembering Angel at his best, I’ll take an opportunity to link to the O’s greatest moment of the last 20 years – the Delmon Young double. Enjoy Angel’s call beginning at the 2:16 mark of this clip.

4. Brush Up a Bit on Analytics – No doubt you’ve heard the word “analytics” dozens of times since the hiring of Mike Elias back in November. It is widely acknowledged that the O’s were one of MLB’s least-interested in using analytics under the previous regime…and that they are working quickly to catch up to the rest of the league in this area.

But what exactly are analytics? And how do you use them? O’s fans new to the concept would do well to check out these resources:

* Beginner’s Guide to Baseball Analytics – a detailed glossary of what these “new” statistics really mean.

* SABR’s Research Guide – A comprehensive, 12-part guide for those interested in how to crunch the numbers themselves.

* Baseball Reference WAR Explained – The “Wins Above Replacement” statistic is often mentioned, but many don’t understand what it involves. Here’s a brief primer.

5. Plan Your Outings to Bowie, Frederick, Norfolk & Aberdeen – One of the questions in Mike Elias’ introductory press conference was, “With the major league team in a rebuild, what should O’s fans look forward to this season?” Elias’ answer was an interesting one…he mentioned how close by the team’s minor league affiliates are and suggested that fans jump on board early by tracking the progress of young players in the minor league system. That seems like a good enough idea, but it is also a bit unsettling for those of us sending in money for season tickets to watch the major league team.

With that said, checking out the young players is always entertaining – and with the promotional schedules already posted for many minor league teams, you can begin your planning now to not only see how our top prospects are doing…but grabbing a unique bobblehead or collectible in the process.

6. Follow Spring Training Games in a Different Way – Spring training statistics – including teams’ won-loss records – have always been virtually useless. But the individual performances in this year’s Spring Training games will carry a little extra weight for the O’s, as decisions need to be made at so many key positions.

Fortunately, O’s fans can follow those at-bats a little more closely this year thanks to the team’s commitment to covering virtually every Grapefruit League game either on MASN…on the O’s Radio Network…or via audio-only streaming on Orioles.com.

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Seven O’s games will be televised on MASN…13 will be available on the radio…and 16 will be streamed digitally with Steve Melewski handling play-by-play.

I’ve often wondered why a team that owns its own television network only televises a handful of Spring Training games, but at least this year they’ve committed to more audio broadcasts, allowing fans to listen or watch virtually every at bat of the spring.

7. Embrace the Rebuild – The last thing Orioles fans should do between now and Opening Day is to simply adjust their mindset. There’s a new regime in place…and a rebuild is finally underway.

Yes, it’s true that we won’t be planning trips to playoff games at Oriole Park this fall – and likely for a few years to come. But this new rebuild will be fascinating to watch.

So take a deep breath…prepare yourself for the potential of another 100-loss season…but at the same time start looking for the building blocks of the next great Orioles team as they begin to emerge.

 

 

 

 

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