Baseball, optimism back in Baltimore
Annual Fanfest welcomes team home after Spring Training
BALTIMORE -- The smell of freshly made cotton candy, the familiar tunes blaring from the speakers and the lively chatter of excited voices in a sea of orange and black could mean only one thing.Baseball season. The Orioles on Saturday held Fanfest 2008, a day-long celebration welcoming the team home after Spring Training, filling Camden Yards with nothing but optimism and promise. The event attracted visitors spanning the generations, and while youngsters could choose from a multitude of games and attractions, most minds were focused only on the year to come. Season-ticket holders were treated to a question-and-answer session with Andy MacPhail, president of baseball operations, and manager Dave Trembley before the morning sun had even fully emerged onto the outfield grass, and the brains behind the Orioles got the day off to a bright start. "We took a course of action that we think was necessary so we can win," MacPhail said, addressing the team's new direction. "We don't want to just be above .500, we want to win. And in order to get there, we have to bring as much talent onto this field as we can." A number of the several hundred season-ticket holders repeatedly expressed their gratitude about how MacPhail is approaching the Orioles' rebuilding process. "Finally, we have a chance to see this done right," one fan commented to preface his question. "We finally have some direction on this team." The majority of the questions were directed at MacPhail, a Baltimore native whose notorious baseball smarts helped build the Minnesota Twins into World Series champions in 1987 and 1991. Now, as the architect of the Orioles' new foundation, MacPhail explained to fans the importance of scouting and a strong farm system. He announced that in the offseason, the Orioles spent $500,000 on new video-instruction equipment and also built a facility in the Dominican Republic. "This area, as well as any, appreciates the idea of a farm system," MacPhail said. "We need to be good at that, not just OK. Our first goal is to make a strong investment into the infrastructure of this franchise." As for Trembley, who took over the team midseason last year, his focus in addressing fans narrowed on forging a new identity for his team. Trembley said that he wrote down 10 goals for the Orioles, and having a definable identity is high on the list. He said that enthusiasm, effort and energy are the keys to this quest. "The attitude we showed during Spring Training was as good as it could have been," Trembley said. "It will be that way from day one to day 162." The team's young talent, such as outfielder Adam Jones, pitcher Adam Loewen and catcher Matt Wieters, was a recurring topic of discussion, and continued well after the early-morning session. Fan forums took place throughout the day and gave eager minds a chance to converse with assistant coaches, television announcers, former players and members of the local media. Along with the bobbleheads, posters, hats and plethora of other giveaways, children enjoyed moon bounces, batting cages, and the unveiling of new scoreboards in center field, right field and along the upper decks. All the talk, speculation and playfulness finally peaked when fans met players for a two-hour autograph session and the Orioles worked out on the field for the first time this season. And although the real action won't begin until Monday, when Jeremy Guthrie takes the mound to face the Tampa Bay Rays at 3 p.m. ET, fans certainly felt the baseball back in Baltimore. "It's a great day to come back and see all the new faces," Baltimore resident Kim Miller said as he stood in line to snag a few giveaways. "It's pretty exciting for me as a fan, and it's a great way to transition into the season."
Geremy Bass is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.