Scott German: Youth movement shows signs of life, future for Baltimore Orioles
The club has lost 100-plus games in two of the last three seasons. The only thing saving the team from a triple-digit losing campaign in 2020 was a condensed 60-game season due to the pandemic.
As much as I love college sports, Orioles baseball has been my passion since I was old enough to remember my parents taking me to games in the now-demolished Memorial Stadium.
My earliest memory of watching the Orioles play came when my dad took me to a game against the New York Yankees. We watched this aging superstar named Mickey Mantle attempt to play first base-on essentially no legs.
I was probably 12 or 13 at the time, and even at that young age, it was obvious that Mantle was overmatched in the infield. Years later his task became much clearer when I watched the movie “Money Ball.”
Actor Brad Pitt, portraying Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, was “recruiting “a free agent to come and play first base for Oakland, a position the player had never played.
Beane (Pitt) turned to his scouting director, who was also in the room, and said, “How really hard is it to play first base anyway?” Without hesitation, the director replied, “It’s really hard, Billy.”
So, as I said, I have been an O’s fan for many a year. I have my share of many late-night West Coast TV games, screaming and acting like a crazy person at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday morning following a random extra-inning loss to Seattle.
As an adult working for the News-Virginian, I was fortunate enough to be credentialed to cover the club in the 1983 American league Championship Series and World Series.
I was in the Orioles locker-room following their game five World Series championship win over Philadelphia. After some pleading, I even got World Series MVP Rick Dempsey to spray champaign over me.
Afterward, Dempsey apologized.
I have been an Orioles season ticket holder for several years. During the 2019 season, during which the team lost 108 games, I was in Camden Yards for 14 home games. I took pride in boasting while I was in attendance the Orioles were 7-7 that year.
The city of Baltimore has taken it on the chin as well the last few years. Homicides are among the highest in the nation, some key manufacturing companies have left town, and the city government has a severely tarnished image. A recent mayor is in federal prison, and a key council member is under FBI scrutiny.
But Baltimore is a blue-collar town , a tough town, and the Orioles are a huge part of the city, and hopefully as the Orioles rebuild, the city will follow. On a trip to a game a few summers ago, I took a cab ride back to where I was staying. It was a Friday night game against the Minnesota Twins in late August. Both teams were well out of postseason contention. The attendance at Oriole Park was still around 25,000.
The cab driver and I discussed how quiet the Inner Harbor was on a beautiful Friday evening. The driver said it was due to the Orioles.
“How the O’s are doing, so goes the city” said the driver.
He got it. The club brings the town together.
Tickets at Oriole Park are affordable, the food and drink prices are reasonable, at least for major league baseball standards.
The club is in a massive rebuilding project. Practically every aspect of the organization is going through a complete overhaul, all the way down to the farm system and international player development program.
The club knows that to compete in the ultra-rich and competitive American League East, the high rent division of MLB, it requires a huge investment in young and international player development.
So, this week’s announcement of the new Dominican Republic Baseball Academy proves to those of us fans that bleed orange and black that the team is doing more than giving lip service to its fan base. It’s spending huge amounts of money in infrastructure. That is how you compete with the Yankees and Red Sox; you don’t outspend them, you outwork them from the ground up.
Tuesday the Orioles announced plans for a 23-acre development and educational complex to be built in the Dominican Republic. General Manager Mike Elias called it “a significant, multimillion-dollar investment.”
When completed, the complex will provide the young international talent a year-round facility to not only further develop their baseball skills, but will offer educational opportunities for not only the players, but their families.
So, this announcement really gives me a better understanding of where Elias is taking my team, and I am buying the Kool-Aid.
This is a clear sign that the front office and partnership of owners, which rumor has it may now include Orioles icon Cal Ripken Jr., understands the importance of signing young international players, some as young as 15 or 16.
Elias said in a zoom conference recently that the club’s top priority since his arrival has been player development.
“This is something (new facility) is extremely important for us in what we’ve set out to do, which is to have an elite player development system from its inception,“ Elias said.
The new Dominican Republic facility will feature not only baseball development amenities for their prospects, including computer labs, but classrooms to help educate players on topics from nutrition to financial concerns.
Baltimore recently signed its largest number of international players, 22 in all, which according to MLB insiders was a significant movement for the club, and a further indicator that some baseball royalty may have joined the Oriole forces and that royalty has a very keen understanding of how to compete with the big boys.
Story by Scott German