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Prose and Kohn

Orioles spring training once again a treat for fans

Jackson Holliday signs autographs for fans at Ed Smith Stadium before the Baltimore Orioles' Feb. 29 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jackson Holliday signs autographs for fans at Ed Smith Stadium before the Baltimore Orioles' Feb. 29 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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Jackson Holliday is smooth. 

From his swing and stance, to his throwing motion, to the way he signs dozens of autographs for screaming young fans at Ed Smith Stadium, everything that the No. 1 prospect in baseball does feels natural, like he is destined to do this the same way for the next 20 years. 

Holliday, 20, was putting his baseball and social skills on display before and during the Baltimore Orioles' Feb. 29 home spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates — a 9-8 Orioles comeback win. After signing autographs, Holliday went 2 for 4 with a triple and an RBI and generally looked the part of a major leaguer despite not being able to order a beer at any of Sarasota's downtown bars. 

Yet Holliday is not guaranteed a spot on the Orioles' opening day roster. After years of struggles led to a bevy of high draft picks, the team's roster, particularly its offensive lineup, is loaded. Baltimore showed its potential last season, as I predicted it would, winning 101 games and taking the AL East crown. Then, thanks to some poorly timed pitching injuries and running into a buzzsaw of a Texas Rangers team, Baltimore was eliminated in the first round of the postseason. 

Sarasota County Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Hartley throws out the ceremonial first pitch as part of the Baltimore Orioles' Heroes Day promotion at Ed Smith Stadium on Feb. 29.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The Orioles' young guns got a taste of the playoffs in 2023. This year, the team will be out for the whole meal. If you're reading this, you have a chance to catch a seat on the bandwagon. I suggest you do. 

I know many Sarasota residents support the Tampa Bay Rays — or, in increasing numbers, whichever team they supported before moving here — but the O's have called Sarasota their spring home for 15 years now. It's OK to give them some love, too. 

Some of the reasons for that have nothing to do with baseball. The Orioles make it a point to support and give shout-outs to the Sarasota community. 

On Feb. 29, Sarasota County Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Hartley enthusiastically threw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of the game's Heroes Day promotion. On March 10, a Kids Day promotion will allow the area's youth to run the Ed Smith Stadium bases after the game. On March 12, it will be the area's seniors' turn — strolling, not running, around the bases. But the thought remains the same. And on a more macro level, Sarasota County's most recent annual economic report, covering July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, found that the organization generated more than $72 million in economic impact and created more than 970 jobs in Sarasota County in that time span. 

But there are baseball reasons, too, namely this one: Baltimore has a chance to win the 2024 World Series. 

The Orioles added the ace pitcher they have missed for so long in February, trading two prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers for 2021 NL Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes, who holds a career 3.26 ERA and is one of the most consistent arms in the sport.

The Baltimore Orioles traded for 2020 NL Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes this offseason.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Burnes pitched on Feb. 29, and while he was clearly still shaking off the offseason rust — he allowed three runs in 1.2 innings, including a moonshot home run by Pirates' top prospect Henry Davis — he also struck out three Pirates hitters, showcasing devastating movement on his pitches. Burnes, a right-hander, will combine with 24-year-old righty Grayson Rodriguez (4.35 ERA in 2023, but 2.58 in the second half) and veteran lefty John Means (2.66 ERA) to make a terrific starting pitching trio. Add righty Kyle Bradish (2.83 ERA) to that group once he returns from a UCL sprain, and things get even more interesting. 

Then there's the team's position players, which include too many interesting names to list them all. 

But here's a few: Catcher Adley Rutschman, who is entering his second full season with the club and is arguably the best defensive catcher in the game alongside hitting .277. Third baseman/shortstop Gunnar Henderson, who won the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year award after hitting .255 with 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. Outfielder Anthony Santander, who hit .257 with 28 home runs and 95 RBIs. Outfielder Austin Hays, who seems to fly under the radar, even with O's fans, despite making the 2023 All-Star game and hitting .275 with 16 home runs while playing above-average defense. 

Then there is Jackson Holliday. At one point in time, both Rutschman and Henderson were MLB's top prospect as well, but Holliday may be the most heralded of the three. The son of seven-time All Star outfielder Matt Holliday, Jackson Holliday flew through the Baltimore farm system in a single season, going from the A-level Delmarva Shorebirds and the AAA-level Norfolk Tides. He didn't show any signs of struggling until hitting the Tides, where he faced pitchers with MLB experience, and even then, Holliday hit .267 with an OBP of .796 in 18 games. Getting to see him before he makes his MLB regular season debut is a once-in-a-lifetime experience fans shouldn't miss. 

Is the actual baseball not enough to sway you? The atmosphere at Ed Smith is as lively as ever. The food at the Boog's BBQ stand is as delicious as ever. And the beer — well, I didn't have one on the job, but it looked as cold as ever. 

There are few better ways to spend a spring day or night than watching great baseball in a great place with great fans. Don't pass this spring training season up. 



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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