It’s been a long and trying season at Camden Yards, a fact not lost on Orioles leadership.
Prior to the home finale Sunday afternoon, manager Brandon Hyde met with the media for his usual pregame availability. He answered each question, explained a few decisions he had been made, and sprinkled in a few jokes. It was a typical press conference.
Then, when all the questions were done, Hyde stopped everyone getting up to leave, asking to say a few words.
“The energy in the ballpark last night was fantastic,” Hyde began. “I’m looking forward to the day when it’s like that all the time. I appreciate the way the fans showed up.”
Of course, that fan support came in what was ultimately a losing effort for the Orioles. It’s a pattern that’s been prevalent all season long in Baltimore.
“It’s been hard,” the manager continued. “Been a trying process, I totally understand the frustrations. But it will get better.”
It did get better, at least for a day, as the Orioles held off the Mariners 2-1 in a breezy Sunday afternoon affair.
Most of the players impacting Sunday’s win may not be around the next time the Orioles are competitive, but the starting pitcher certainly caught the eye of Mike Elias this season.
“I think the team has played its butt off all year,” the general manager praised before the game. “It’s battled, and I think we can all go with the individual success stories. You know, Means, Santander, Severino, Mancini having a huge year. I mean, there’s too many to go through right now. Not everything goes perfectly in a baseball season, but I think the positives this year far outweigh the negatives, and our organization is positioned so much better for the future than it was this time last year.”
The general praise continued from the man leading the Orioles' rebuild, though he is quick to recognize the reality of the franchise’s situation.
“We’ve got a lot of areas to get better in, I think that’s no secret,” Elias admitted. “But overall we sit back and look around at what’s happened in the organization and it was just a very positive year. Got a lot accomplished across the organization...The farm system’s taken a huge jump this year. Some of that, obviously, is the draft with the number one pick. But I would argue most of it is what happened with the players that were already in the system. Some player development improvements that we made, the changes and the steps forward the group took. Here at the big league level, look. I mean we’re still losing games way more than we want to. This is not fun, it’s not easy to crawl out of.”
Elias is right. The Orioles finished 61 games out of first place in 2018. Even with Sunday’s win, they are currently 50 games behind the Yankees in the AL East in 2019.
This is a huge hole, and a better year than last doesn’t mean the Orioles are close to competing. Yet.
While Elias and the rest of the front office appreciate the fan support the team has received in 2019, he knows it’s all relative to the on-field success of the organization.
“I can’t ask anyone to embrace losing the way we have. Our record last year was historically bad, this year it’s not going to be a ton better. Nobody wants to do this. We never want this to happen again,” Elias told reporters emphatically. “There’s a long way to go, a lot to be done. I think the support has been tremendous. The people coming out here, they love this team. The people of the city love this team, they know that this needs to be done. And I’m confident that they’re going to come back, and they’re gonna come back in a big way.”
At least one pregame request from Hyde came true Sunday, as he hoped fans would show appreciation for both Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, two Orioles who have experienced rough years for different reasons.
The Camden Yards faithful responded, showering Davis with thunderous applause after his home run in the seventh inning gave the O’s their 2-1 lead. Of course, any player homering in that scenario would receive an ovation. But that doesn’t make it any less nice to see it come Davis’ way.
Hyde also put out a second plea to Orioles fans pregame.
“I’m asking for everybody’s patience. I want fans to feel good about the start of the process, and trust that it’s going to get better.”
The confidence from management has not wavered, and for now, it hasn’t wavered from most fans either. If Hyde and Elias are to be believed, even a 100-loss season can signal a positive step forward, and the Orioles firmly believe they’re on the right track.
This time in 2018, the Orioles were a franchise in disarray, with a lame-duck leadership team and a bleak future.
It’s hard to believe what a difference a season can make.
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