Orioles' present catches up with their past
Jones, Showalter front and center in Baltimore's baseball renaissance
BALTIMORE -- In the past five seasons, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones occasionally has gone to one of the senior members of the organization and asked about the past.
Jones already knew plenty. He knew about Frank and Brooks Robinson. He knew about Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray.
He knew that for a couple of decades, the O's were the smartest, most efficient franchise in all the game.
Jones knew that Memorial Stadium had been nicknamed the "Asylum on 33rd Street" in the 1980s and that Camden Yards had once been the toughest ticket in baseball.
He'd just never experienced it for himself. For five seasons, he'd dreamed. He even signed a six-year contract extension, cementing his commitment to the city.
But Jones had always wondered if he'd experience Oriole Magic or The Oriole Way himself.
"How loud can this place get?" Jones would ask trainer Richie Bancells.
Bancells would smile and shrug. He'd tell Jones it could be really special, and he knew better than almost anyone.
The veteran trainer has been part of the franchise since the mid-'80s and was a confidant to everyone from Ripken to Murray to Jim Palmer.
Bancells had been there for some of the best of times, and for some of the real tough ones, too, when the crowds were small and the losses numbing.
So on a night when the Orioles honored their past and celebrated their present, Bancells and Jones had one more conversation.
This was the night the O's honored Ripken with the unveiling of a statue, the fifth of six such ceremonies honoring their Hall of Famers this summer.
This was the night they played for first place, played in front of packed house of 46,298, a sea of orange, magic in the air.
Baltimore had let a 6-1 lead turn into a 6-6 tie in the top of the eighth inning, and then Jones led off the bottom of the inning with a towering home run to left field.
Later, Orioles manager Buck Showalter would refer to Jones by speaking of "that look in his eyes."
Showalter meant that some players play big when it matters most. Jones had done that, had gotten the momentum back in a game the O's would go on to win 10-6 Thursday night.
The Orioles, who were 10 games behind the Yankees on July 18, would leave Camden Yards in a 77-60 dead heat. They got six home runs on this night. They needed five pitchers.
As Jones rounded the bases, as the crowd stood and roared, as Ripken, Murray, etc., applauded, there was a feeling that Baltimore was back.
Jones soaked up the cheers, got the bear hugs and handshakes in the dugout and then plopped down on the bench. That's when Bancells approached him.
"THAT," he whispered, "is how loud it can get."
The Orioles were picked to finish last in the American League East. It was tough to compare them to the other Yankees, Rays, etc., and see how their pitching would hold up.
"The truth is," catcher Matt Wieters said, "we left Spring Training believing we were good enough to compete."
That they have. Showalter has brilliantly moved the pieces around. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has found players here, there and everywhere.
The Orioles have used 50 in all, including 25 pitchers. But they've more than held their own, and with 25 games remaining, they're tied for first place.
This night had the look and feel of magic. Players felt it. Ripken felt it.
"It's really cool," he said.
There in the ninth inning, with closer Jim Johnson in to get the final three outs, with the crowd standing, it felt like the way baseball always should be in Baltimore.
"I was trying to talk to J.J. [Johnson] in the ninth inning," first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "He was 10 feet away from me and couldn't hear me. It was pretty special."
From the moment the Orioles hired Showalter two years ago, he tried to make sure his players understood how special baseball has been in this city.
Showalter lined hallways with photos of the Hall of Famers. He asked Earl Weaver to speak to his team. He loves when Jim Palmer or Boog Powell stroll through the clubhouse.
Now fans in Baltimore look at this team of heart and resilience and remember how it used to be. They've even compared Showalter to Weaver, the one and only Earl of Baltimore.
"Those guys were so consistent and did it for so many years," Showalter said. "We haven't even scratched the surface. But you feel them pulling for you. You can see it in their faces. You really get a reminder of what this place was like, could be like. It's important for them to set a certain standard."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.