Opera without the singing or the horses
It was a warm day last Thursday as I took a left turn off Tuttle Avenue on to 12th Street in Sarasota (FL) and tried to remember how to get into the Baltimore Orioles spring training parking lot at Ed Smith Stadium.
This year much of the buzz over the O’s is not taking place on the practice field as much as it is happening in the front office where Dan Duquette, new executive vice president of baseball operations, has come on board.
The Orioles’ website said it best. “There won't be any shortage of storylines this spring.”
The sun was bright as I approached a beehive of activity; however I did not hear the crack of the bat, fans cheering, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello asking questions, or Sebastion Dinwiddle shouting, “Peanuts get your peanuts.”
Nor did I see any of the careful operatic choreography of grown men in orange costumes chasing a small white ball and running around in circles.
What I heard was a cacophony of diesel engines, back-up alarms on trucks and equipment and a worker in an orange vest shouting, “C’mon back… A little more. Whoa, that’s far enough. Okay, let’s…”
The Ed Smith Stadium has been undergoing a $31 million renovation since the Orioles took over the 20-something-year-old baseball facility.
As I approached the practice field, a small sample square of artificial turf held down the stack of 2012 spring training rosters being sold for a buck.
This marks the third year in a row that the Orioles have conducted spring training in Sarasota, and my third year of attending the annual spring ritual and trying to figure out ‘what’s’ on first and ‘who’s’ on second or making any sense of how to describe it in words.
Yet, I still never quite know what to expect.
Baltimore Sun writer Eduardo A. Encina explained: “The Orioles' new turf field at the facility is nearing completion. (Orioles manager Buck) Showalter said former Orioles shortstop and current Spring instructor Mike Bordick, as well as Spring instructor Bobby Dickerson, will help to test the field by taking grounders on it. The field allows the team to practice shortly after rainstorms but also simulates the surface that division rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto play on.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the complex, I was curious to see what the buzz was all about with the new operations center.
According to one of my former colleagues at ExploreCarroll.com, Charles Schelle, who is now an editor with Sarasota Patch, “The 43,000-square-foot building (located beside the Ed Smith Stadium,) is about one and a half times the size of the old building and features just about everything a pro ball player will need...”
I thought the old building was quaint and exuded that quintessential sense of southern hospitality.
Apparently I had the luxury of feeling that way because I did not have to work in the old edifice, according to several workers inside the new building who greeted my praise of the old building with groans of surprise and polite, but firm, protest.
One thing is for sure, the Oriole organization is definitely in the customer service business.
And despite my apprehensions – the concerns of a seasoned state and local government reporter that has developed over many years of covering politicians and council meetings who greet my presence with the warmth of a water moccasin, the Oriole front office and the Director of Public Relations, Monica Barlow, from Ellicott City, could not have been more accommodating.
“We’re looking forward to a great season,” Ms. Barlow said as she looked-up from a stack of papers presented to her from an aide. She acted as if I were the only person in the world as she politely answered a few questions. However, it was obvious that at that particular moment she was the conductor of the press office for the choreographed dance of Spring practice.
Our conversation quickly turned to home, in Maryland, and Camden Yards. “It’s the 20th anniversary season of Camden Yards… You know it’s considered to be the ‘the ball park that forever changed baseball.’ It’s the 10th-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball… and every ballpark since has been inspired by – or used (design) elements from the Yard.
“We have a number of renovations (planned for Camden Yards) that we’re excited about…,” continued Ms. Barlow. “Most notably the six retired-number sculptures…”
Earlier in the day, as I walked by a section of the stadium bleachers, I overheard Mr. Duquette making a presentation. He was emphasizing the “player development operation” to build the team for the future.
However, one of the more interesting portions of his talk was when he explained that “baseball is really an international game now” as the presentation lapsed into a discussion of the Japanese, Korean, South American and Caribbean players being added to the rosters of Major League Baseball.
“We can compete… We can be competitive,” said Mr. Duquette as he finished-up his remarks.
Hours later, as I left the stadium grounds I could not help but think of Abbott and Costello’s explanation of baseball in March 1938 on the Kate Smith radio show.
Costello: … I throw the ball to who. Whoever it is drops the ball and the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don't Know. I Don't Know throws it back to Tomorrow, Triple play. Another guy gets up and hits a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don't know!
Fortunately Ms. Barlow and Mr. Duquette made much more sense to me than Mr. Abbott's explanations.
That said, I still do not understand baseball any better than Mr. Costello, but I had a great day – and I’m still very jealous of writers who make a living penning the subtitles to the opera known as baseball.
. . . . .I’m just saying…