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Spring training is all about hopes
"Hey, Honey. Are the Orioles going to be in the runoffs this year?"
Well, baseball is not my wife's strength. She calls the "playoffs" the "runoffs," but I can't complain -- she's the reason I'm down here in sunny Fort Lauderdale on a beautiful March weekend taking in three Orioles spring training games.
Fifteen years ago, she got me hooked on spring training when she lovingly handed me round-trip tickets to Florida and wished me happy birthday.
Since then, the combination of warm, sunny weather and the sights and sounds of baseball up close have been too much to resist. So every January, when I'm suffering from deep O's withdrawal, I wait for the spring schedule to be announced, pick my games, order the tickets and arrange flights, car rentals and motels -- though I usually stay with my snow-bird sister and brother-in-law in Fort Lauderdale.
It's that easy. Then I sit back and start working on the roster -- usually much harder.
Everything here is more relaxed. The guy with the paunch in the parking lot and the gray-haired lady at the turnstile greet you warmly. Duke, the hard-working beer vendor with the green elephant hat, jokes with the fans: "Take one sip and pass the bottle down."
The scout sitting behind home plate wonders who No. 93 could be (not listed on any scorecard). A rangy rookie lopes after a fly ball hoping he'll impress someone. Meanwhile, another rookie boots a grounder and hopes no one has noticed. Spring training is all about hopes. (One complaint: Why aren't fans allowed into the stadium early enough to see the O's batting practice?)
In the stands, a player's wife, chic and dignified, focuses on her husband in the batting cage, knowing a few solid smacks could translate into security for her young family. And you've got to see Mrs. Mora, elegantly attired as she arrives with her daughter and quintuplets -- the 2027 O's?
The retirees are here too. They can tell you all about the '47 or '83 World Series or Robbie (Frank Robinson) or the Blade (Mark Belanger). One old-timer leans over to ask, "Who's that solid-looking lefty playing right field and hitting line-drives everywhere?".
Given all the signings -- and assuming no new injuries -- it looks like the team is set with only one more roster decision to be make. The last spot will go to a utility man, either Freddie Bynum, a weak hitter with a contract, a great glove and an infectious smile, or Jason Dubois, who has been blistering the ball but is not as smooth in the field. I would love to see Dubois get a shot but I suspect Flannie (Mike Flanagan) will choose Bynum for his defensive versatility, unless they pick someone up from another club.
While the backup catcher position is Paul Bako's to lose, Adam Donachie, a Rule 5 player, has impressed me and I'd like to see him get a chance. He's supposed to be as good a defensive catcher as Bako, is 12 years younger and has a bigger upside as a right-hand bat off the bench. But Bako has a $900,000 contract.
I see three games this weekend. The question is, which game represents the O's we'll see this season: the 16-2 loss to the Twinkies where Chad Bradford hit three batters in one endless inning; the 9-0 defeat of the Mets where Erik Bedard dominates and we start the first inning with seven straight singles off Aaron Sele; or the 2-1 loss to the BoSox without Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz or Jason Varitek in their lineup?
For St. Patrick's Day, all the Mets are wearing green caps with their blue road uniforms. Right spirit -- wrong color combo.
During that game, my friend Howard from Portland, Ore., calls with an update: our split squad is beating the Marlins 5-2 and Hayden Penn has pitched well despite the missing equipment bag caper. Howard, born in Baltimore, remains a fierce Orioles fan and even takes the red-eye flight from Oregon every other year to attend spring training with me.
After the games, fans line up to get autographs from the O's leaving the parking lot in their often flashy vehicles. Someone recognizes Corey Patterson slowly and carefully driving a black Hummer. Here's my chance. I catch up to him in my stealth economy rental and pass him on Commercial Boulevard.
Bet you didn't think I was faster than Corey!
Throughout spring training, baltimoresun.com will publish reports by Orioles fans that made the trip to Florida for baseball's preseason. From Grapefruit League games to minor league camps, our crew of fan correspondents will weigh in with their spring training insights and experiences -- your source for a healthy dose of spring fever.