Players who’ve been with the Orioles for any length of time will tell you there’s something special about the team and its town.
Chris Davis kept referring to it at his press conference on Thursday night. Matt Wieters talked about it when he accepted the qualifying offer. It was obvious with Darren O’Day, too.
The clubhouse chemistry has been well documented. Manager Buck Showalter, who quickly got Baltimore, runs a clubhouse where few players are unhappy.
Davis talked about being involved in the community, and it’s a lot easier here than in other places.
Baltimore is one of the smallest markets in major league baseball, and it’s one of the smallest with two teams.
While residents here are justifiably proud of the city’s rich sports history, and for a city its size it has an amazing list of great athletes, it’s not terribly large.
Baltimore wouldn’t want to be compared with Cincinnati or Kansas City, but that’s a much fairer comparison than Philadelphia or Washington.
The relative smallness of Baltimore is part of what makes it comfortable for athletes.
Many Orioles live in the city during the season. For people who make millions of dollars, they don’t live like it. Some live in relatively upscale neighborhoods, but a lot of you are their neighbors. You see them in Harris Teeter, Panera or Target, and except for a quick greeting, you leave them alone.
That’s what’s special here. People who live here understand that athletes generally don’t want a fuss made over them. That happens at the ballpark, not at the grocery store.
In 2014, Davis was struggling, but even when his average was under .200, as it was for much of the season, the fans didn’t boo him. They cheered.
Players who played long and well here are usually greeted warmly when they return. Nick Markakis’ ovation last July was a hearty one.
Markakis really didn’t want to leave the Orioles. He had no choice, but his family remained, and like you, he’s probably figuring out how to get this driveway and sidewalk shoveled.
There are exceptions, of course. Mike Mussina is regarded as a traitor by many for signing with the Yankees, and overshadowing the debate about his Hall of Fame qualifications, is a more important question.
What hat should he wear on his Hall of Fame plaque?
Mussina is a Hall of Famer, but too many, if he “goes in as a Yankee,” is the paramount issue. Had he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers instead, it wouldn’t have been as big an issue.
Frank Robinson spent more of his career away from Baltimore than in it, but he still regards himself as an Oriole. Davey Johnson managed the Mets to a World Series, but Baltimore is special to him, too.
Orioles fans here aren’t as demanding as perhaps Ravens fans are even though many who root for one team pull for the other.
In 2012, fans would have been satisfied with the team simply breaking its streak of 14 losing seasons. The Orioles did much better, and if the team returns to the sub-.500 neighborhood in 2016, that will be a disappointment.
But, while they’d love to see their first World Series in 33 years, they’re realistic. Contention would be fine for most of them.
It’s been an unusual off-season around here. The Ravens played poorly, and were out of the playoff conversation not long after the Orioles season ended.
That only intensified the pressure on the team to bring Davis back. There were no postseason games with the Patriots or Steelers to get excited about, just the worry that the slugger would go elsewhere.
Davis, O’Day, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones are all very different people with different personalities. Each had their own reason for signing here.
Hardy didn’t want the uncertainty of going to free agency and can live and work quietly.
Like Hardy, Jones probably could have gotten more on the open market, but in May 2012, saw that the team was heading in the right direction and took an offer to his liking. He likes the attention, doesn’t mind being bothered when he’s out and about, and willingly speaks for his teammates to the media when times get rough.
O’Day had family reasons for wanting to be in the area, but the Orioles hardly took that for granted. They gave him an appealing offer to stay.
Davis? His contract is nearly double Jones’, and he knows there will be pressure and high expectations. If he hits 40 home runs a few times during the seven years of his contract, fans will be happy.
If he doesn’t, they’ll always remember him pitching at Fenway Park.