When Nick Markakis stepped to the plate in the first inning yesterday with a runner on first base to face veteran Twins pitcher Carl Pavano, one of many questions facing the 2012 Orioles began to swirl in the brisk April chill.
Nick had just received his 2011 Gold Glove in a pregame ceremony along with catcher Matt Wieters–finally receiving recognition from the league for his defensive prowess in right field. After a drop off in production at the plate last year, he needed to remind the more than 46,500 on hand for the opening game of the season that his bat could still make a statement.
Among the throngs of orange-clad fans on Eutaw Street still getting to their seats in the jam-packed revamped flag court, around the upper deck and on the lower levels – and across the city where Oriole followers listened on radios or watched on televisions, knelt in church pews at Good Friday services or prepared for Passover seder – the question stirred in the air.
Who on this team is going to hit for power?
With a definitive sense of purpose that is his trademark, Markakis drilled an opposite field laser 366 feet into the left field bleachers for a 2-0 lead. He later tripled deep to right center in the fifth, knocking in another run.
Nasty Slider, 95-mph Fastball
Starter Jake Arrieta answered the rest of the lingering uncertainties about whether an upgraded and relatively young pitching staff will reach its potential – at least for one day.
He was masterful, twirling a two-hit shutout through seven innings. No other Oriole pitcher has accomplished that on Opening Day. His 95 mile-per-hour fastball and nasty slider befuddled Twins hitters.
For one spectacular season opener in the most beautiful park in the nation, the Orioles won with a workman-like efficiency, 4-2.
“There’s a quiet want-to in this locker room,” said Buck Showalter in a MASN radio interview on Thursday and it was on display as Camden Yards celebrated its 20th anniversary with a victory.
Blue Sky, Freshened-up Yards and a Win
John Cronin, of Tuscany-Canterbury, was there in 1992 and in 2012, and before that, Memorial Stadium.
“The park continues to stay fresh and new. It makes living in Baltimore a unique experience – you get to come to this wonderful place to see a game,” Cronin said. “It’s kind of like the city, there are all these things to take advantage of that you might not know about until you do it.”
The inaugural battery that christened the new Yards with an Orioles win in 1992, pitcher Rick Sutcliffe and catcher Chris Hoiles, returned yesterday to throw (and catch) the ceremonial first pitch. A tall streaker wearing a black cape and shorts raced and high-stepped from right to left field before being tackled twice by the Baltimore Police looking like the Ravens defensive line chasing a quarterback.
New features were on display such as the low railings in the flag court and left field picnic area, a Gino’s restaurant deck above the green wall in center field that resembles aspects of Fenway Park, and the smiling, cartoon bird – the symbol of the Orioles winning tradition.
“The city has never looked more beautiful to me,” said Greg Britton of Roland Park who moved to Baltimore from Los Angeles last year. “The park looks brand new.”
What About the Next 20 Years?
Or the rest of the season for that matter. An exhibition loss on Tuesday to a college team ignited a wave of negative press about the Orioles. Baseball experts are predicting a last place finish in the competitive AL East.
Regardless of whether they will reverse the trend and end what may become a 15-year learner’s permit of losing, the city’s love for its baseball team has never been more passionate. The entire crowd stood and chanted “Let’s Go O’s!” as Jim Johnson extinguished a Twins uprising in the ninth.
A lifelong, fiercely loyal fan consulted earlier in the week offered her strategy for hanging in with a team that has for so many seasons, raised hopes and then dashed them.
“You have to take it one day at time,” said Sister Paulette Doyas, known as “The Baseball Nun.” It also helps, Sister Paulette explained, not to be so hung up on outcome.
Her office in the Admissions Department at Notre Dame University is filled with Oriole bobbleheads, memorabilia, posters, and autographed balls. She keeps two “bobbleheads in exile” as she calls them – Rafael Palmiero and Sammy Sosa – and an empty spot on the wall where Mike Mussina’s picture once was.
She’s optimistic, and to coin a popular Oriole phrase from the 1989 season, “Why Not?”
Half of the pitchers from last year’s team are in Norfolk where, most likely, they belong. The pitching staff has received much-needed fortification and the core strength of Markakis, Wieters, Jones, Hardy and Reimold all have one more year of experience and playing together.
They are a few pieces away, but don’t be surprised if they are a big improvement over last year’s team.
“I have hopes for them,” Sister Paulette said. “And then there’s always the next game.”