The field of dreams was soaking wet,
but players were readying for action
on eve of (minor league) season opener
It's drizzling, the temperature around 52 degrees, much like an early spring day in England. But it was less than ideal for baseball here in the suburban Maryland town of Bowie, where a dozen so players are tossing around balls and loosing up muscles in late afternoon on the eve of Opening Day.
The infield is covered by puddles atop a protective tarp, and the outfield grass between center and right fields is wet under the cleats before the session is cut short by a downpour. There's thunder in the distance.
|Getting loose despite the rain|
This scene is the backdrop for "Media Day" at Prince George's Stadium, halfway between Washington and Baltimore and home to the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Just a couple of writers and a popular Baltimore radio sports and talk show host turn out for quick interviews in advance of the season opener -- and many of the games here are also sparsely attended.
But it's a great place to watch a game, intimate in size with maybe a tenth of the seats common to Major League ballparks. Ticket and food prices are cheaper -- there's even dollar hotdog nights, and games when fans can bring their own dogs (the kind that wag tails, that is). And a carousel diversion for children is ready near the cheap seats near deep right field.
Quaint it may feel, but there's serious business at hand for the young players for whom Double-A baseball is something of crossroads for Major League dreams -- most of which begin to die here.
The baseball mother ship is Oriole Park, just 26.6 miles to the north, but only a few of the Baysox players will ever reach it wearing uniforms. There's another rung on the advancement ladder of baseball, Triple-A, but the Baltimore Orioles affiliate is further away in Norfolk, Va. In an emergency, it could take just one phone call and a half-hour drive to fulfill the dream -- even if only briefly.
For the 80-minute Media Day session, held under an open-sided tent along the right field concourse, the first banter is with the team's new manager, Kyle Moore, who has been part of the Orioles organization for 13 years as a player, coach and manager for its minor league affiliates, working his way up. Last year, he managed the High-A Aberdeen Ironbirds, north of Baltimore.
A catcher and outfielder in his playing days, Moore looks younger than his age (36) and has more the look of a rangy middle infielder.
Asked what marching orders he gave to the team, Moore offered that they have to hustle running the baselines and keep the dugout tidy. He acknowledged the overriding mission is player development, but added that he also would like to win every game.
Among the players who took turns fielding media questions were the team's three shortstops -- Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson -- who manager Moore said he expects to play at least two games each week at that position, and handle others or fill the role of designated hitter in other games. (In my fantasy league team, I found myself with three shortstops in one year's player draft outcome -- and got rid of two of them early in the season for the sake of position diversity)
|Gunnar Henderson fields questions|
Two of the Baysox shortstops, Henderson and Westburg, are among the minor league players for whom the Orioles have highest hopes this year. Even their names have a baseball ring to them, especially Gunnar, a top hitter who is relatively unusual in having been drafted straight out of high school by the Orioles rather than playing college ball. The reported $2.3 million signing bonus he received might have been a factor in making the early jump into professional baseball.
Physically, among the players taking turns fielding questions, Gunnar Henderson appeared to be the biggest in physique -- and has a great smile and movie star looks. Last year, he advanced through the system in playing for three teams including the Baysox.
Among the few revelations, and the most entertaining during the 80-minute media event, was Henderson saying he's been working on his batting swing using a pitching machine that lobs foam baseballs.
We'll see how that worked out beginning Friday evening, April 8, as the Baysox open their 138-game season against the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The forecast: Dry, a tad chilly, and dreams aplenty.