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Prose and Kohn

Orioles worth your attention — even after they're back in Baltimore

The baseball team has been a downtrodden franchise for years, but that should change in 2023.

The Orioles, represented by the mascot the Oriole Bird, have been in a six-year valley in terms of record, but the 2022 team is turning things around. (File photo)
The Orioles, represented by the mascot the Oriole Bird, have been in a six-year valley in terms of record, but the 2022 team is turning things around. (File photo)
File photo
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By the time you read this, the Baltimore Orioles will be gone. 

After another successful and festive Spring Training spent at Ed Smith Stadium and various other Sarasota facilities, the Orioles headed to Boston to begin the regular season against the American League East rival Red Sox. The teams will kick off their seasons at 3:30 p.m. March 30. 

Traditionally, this is the time when a lot of baseball fans here stop caring about the O's. They either carry an allegiance to the Tampa Bay Rays or to the team based in whatever city they moved to Sarasota to escape. It is rare to see any Orioles gear while walking the streets here past March. 

It makes some sense. I, too, carry an allegiance to my former hometown team with me — mine just happens to be Baltimore. I have followed the team for as long as I've understood the concept of sports, even in the doldrums that have been the last eight or so years of Orioles baseball. In my darkest moments as a fan, I almost swore off the squad for good, until last year's team brought my fandom back to life like a shock from Dr. Frankenstein. 

For anyone who likes baseball but doesn't feel connected to one particular team, or who attends Orioles spring games because they're local but has allegiance to another organization, or even for a baseball agnostic, I think this year's team could provide the same shock to you. 

I'm not going to ask anyone to give up their current fandom for the Orioles. That would be crazy. What I am suggesting is make a little more room in your heart for Baltimore, at least for 2023. I think it will make the baseball year more fun and, frankly, I think this team is going to deserve more fans. 

Orioles general manager Mike Elias has spent five years constructing the team's roster to create a winner.
File photo

They're going to be good, for one thing. Last year's team flirted with the idea of being good for about three and a half months, from mid-May through August, and almost reached the postseason, missing a Wild Card spot by three games. But they weren't good, or at least not consistently good. Their team ERA was 3.97, 17th in MLB, but their starting pitchers struggled, throwing just 41 quality starts (27th in MLB). Offensively, the O's had an OPS of .695 (20th in MLB) meaning, in layman's terms, that they struggled to get on base and hit the ball hard, two fairly important parts of baseball. 

And yet, they nearly made the postseason anyway. 

The biggest reason for the win-loss turnaround was catcher Adley Rutschman, who at the time of his call-up in May was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Rutschman hit .254 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs as a rookie, but he also transformed the pitching staff with his ability to frame pitches, as well as his general ability to manage the staff's emotions; between innings, Rutschman doesn't jog back to the dugout, he jogs to the mound to give his battery mate a fist bump and shoulder hug, and they then head to the bench together. With Rutschman on the team, the Orioles were 12 games over .500. He's going to be an MVP candidate soon, perhaps even this season. He's incredible to watch, and even if the rest of the team was full of rubes, he'd be a reason to closely follow the Orioles. 

The team's not full of rubes, though. Third baseman Gunnar Henderson has a chance to be the American League Rookie of the Year; he hit .259 with four home runs and 18 RBIs after a September call-up to test the waters, and he has such strong hair that his helmet has trouble staying on his head. Infielder Jorge Mateo led the American League in steals last season (35); outfielder Cedric Mullins was second (34). They both have blazing speed and use it often. Outfielder Anthony Santander tied for fifth in the American League with 33 home runs. Closer Felix Bautista, nicknamed The Mountain for his 6-foot-8, 285-pound frame, had the seventh-highest fastball velocity in baseball, throwing it 99.2 mph on average. 

Those are all highly impressive feats that help their team win games, but more importantly, they are cool. The O's are a riot to watch when everything is clicking, playing baseball more like it was 2003 than 2023. They hustle on the bases and stretch their arms to corral low throws and dive for grounders and make rocket throws from their knees and hit dingers and throw fastballs you can barely see before they're in the catcher's mitt. 

Baltimore general manager Mike Elias took a lot of gruff from fans for his approach to rebuilding the team since being hired in 2018 — which, more or less, amounted to sacrificing a few seasons, on purpose, to gain more and better draft capital for the future — but it resulted in what the team is now. The Orioles were the third-youngest team in baseball last season and may even be younger in 2023 by season's end, when prospects like pitcher Grayson Rodriguez and infielder Jordan Westberg arrive to help a postseason charge. 

There might be better teams in the league, but no team will be more fun, or play harder, or have as bright a future. Come next Spring Training — the 15th at Ed Smith Stadium— you might have the chance to take a picture with an award-winner in Rutschman or Henderson. These are players your baseball-loving kids are going to idolize. They'll learn a lot about hustle and respect for the game and for teammates from watching Baltimore, and I think you'll enjoy them, too, even if only secondarily to your favorite team. 

So turn on their games on MLB.TV once in a while, and watch what they do. You won't be disappointed. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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