Sarasota FL – The Orioles’ pitchers and catchers took the field last Thursday for the first day of spring training in their new training facilities in Sarasota after spending the pre-season the last 14 years in Fort Lauderdale.
Life has been tough in Maryland for the last several weeks. The temperatures have hovered in the 30s with snow piled up to our waists.
When the going gets tough, the tough go to the first day of spring training workouts at Ed Smith Stadium in sunny Sarasota.
While friends and neighbors shoveled snow, I toughed-out the woes of winter by watching palm trees swaying to a light breeze and listening as the sea gulls volunteered play-by-play commentary with the temperature in the lower 70s.
Baseball has a rich history in Maryland and remains a summertime favorite for many – from all walks of life.
Baseball has always been a favorite topic for many local history writers. And why not – writing about baseball is fun.
It has everything to warm the keyboard of a writer including summertime, arcane statistics, intrigue, colorful events, talent, family, and friends. Articles about sports are fun to read and sports writers are some of my favorite writers.
On July 28, 2005, Baltimore Sun staff writer Candus Thomson wrote a lengthy article that was full of statistics which illustrated Maryland’s powerhouse status in the world of baseball: “Two hundred sixty-seven major leaguers were born in Maryland – better than 34 other states – and 184 died here – ahead of 39 other states, according to the Web site of the Society for American Baseball Research…”
Local historian Richard Hershberger in an article for the Historical Society of Carroll County several years ago that “Bat-and-ball games had been played since time immemorial, but modern baseball is descended from the game as played in New York City in the 1840s.
“In the late 1850s it began to spread beyond the New York region …”
In an article written by Carroll County Times staff writer Carrie Ann Knauer on April 13, 2006, she recounted a presentation by New Windsor historian Dan Hartzler on a book he wrote on the local history of baseball, “Carroll County, Maryland Baseball.”
“American baseball was a spin-off of the English game called Rounders, and became popularized during the Civil War. Soldiers who went into the war not knowing baseball came home experienced in it, he said, and started up teams in their hometowns,” wrote Ms. Knauer.
According to Ms. Knauer, “The rules were not very set in the early days… The number of players on a team was not standard, nor was the distance between bases or even the type of ball…,” Mr. Hartzler wrote.
“Throughout early baseball, it was common for teams to bring in ‘ringers,’ or paid players, from an outside area to help increase their chances of winning.
“Taneytown was particularly known for bringing in ringers,” Mr. Hartzler said, “so much so that after a game against Emmitsburg, the Emmitsburg newspaper had an article about it.”
“About four or five of the names of the men on your team are either fictitious or never seen our neighboring town until 'very recently.' We have no objections to Taneytown increasing her population, but 'how come' they are all baseball players?”
A few “ringers” sure would come in handy this year for the Orioles. After two rebuilding years and a 64-98 record in 2009, the Orioles are looking forward to a fresh new start to this season in their upgraded facilities.
Last Thursday Orioles manager Dave Trembley was on hand and displayed a good sense of humor as he spent several minutes signing autographs, answering questions and talking about spring training with several hundred Orioles baseball fans.
“We’re excited to be here,” said Trembley referring to the team returning to Sarasota. “We’re looking forward to a good year and for right now starting a long-term relationship with Sarasota.”
The Orioles have not trained in Sarasota since 1995.
The Birds took over the training facility at the 20-year-old, 9,000-seat Ed Smith Stadium from the Cincinnati Reds, who have moved-on to a facility in the U.S. southwest.
Workers were busy throughout the day putting the finishing touches on preparing the stadium for the first home game on March 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ticket sales have been brisk for the 16 Orioles spring training games against 10 different opponents, said Orioles director of public relations Monica Barlow in a lengthy interview.
“We’re thrilled… Sarasota has been so welcoming. We’re glad to be here,” said Ms. Barlow, as she multi-tasked corralling a large contingent of Japanese reporters and photographers who were there covering Koji Uehara, the right-handed pitcher from Osaka, Japan.
Many fans are hoping that the good crop of young players will be “ringers” for the team this year.
There are also great hopes for the off-season moves that witnessed the Birds signing free agent third baseman Miguel Tejada, starting pitcher Kevin Millwood, first baseman Garrett Atkins and closing pitcher Mike Gonzalez, observed Ms. Barlow.
She also noted that the Orioles are looking for good results from youngsters in the outfield, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold; young pitchers Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Dave Hernandez, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman; and Matt Wieters behind the plate at the catcher position.
So for those with a bad case of Chionophobia – a fear of snow – do not despair. Never fear, for spring is near.
Meanwhile as the fans in the Maryland area are looking forward to warmer weather and the upcoming baseball season; the fans at spring practice, the coaches and the players all share our collective enthusiasm that maybe, just maybe, this is the year for the Birds.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at email@example.com.