SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles completed their first camp under Buck Showalter with a newfound appreciation for a gritty baseball manager whose reputation as a no-nonsense drill sergeant proved to be significantly overstated.
Sure, the Orioles covered the fundamentals. Yes, they worked hard, for some even on what was supposed to be the only “off day” of the six-week camp.
In short, they did the things necessary to put them in position to break a franchise-record run of 13 straight losing seasons.
When they packed their bags Wednesday and headed to Tampa Bay for Friday’s season opener, the players realized why Showalter enjoyed success with the New York Yankees, Arizona and Texas.
“It’s the best camp I’ve ever been a part of. Professional and efficient,” left fielder Luke Scott said. “There’s no what we call ‘eyewash,’ when you stand around just going through the motions to look like you’re doing something. There was none of that here. Everything we did was productive, with a purpose.”
Do a drill right, and you’re done. That’s the way Showalter runs a spring training camp.
“It was workmanlike,” reliever Jim Johnson said. “Just go about your business and worry about taking care of stuff on the field and that’s about it. It wasn’t rocket science.
“Before, we’ve done a lot of fundamentals just to do fundamentals. I think everything we did here was for a purpose,” he added. “We weren’t just doing it because we had to kill time. Pitchers didn’t shag (fly balls), which is nice. There’s really no point to it. Guys can use that time to get other stuff done. That was obviously a better thing.”
The Orioles got to know — and appreciate — Showalter to a degree last year, when he took over a last-place team and went 34-23 over the final two months. Showalter spent much of that time getting to know his players and the farm system, and acknowledged that it wouldn’t be until 2011 that he put his stamp on the club.
So when they arrived at camp in mid-February, the Orioles really didn’t know what to expect.
“He does a great job of laying down an expectation but keeping things relaxed. I think that was the thing that surprised me the most about him,” utility player Jake Fox said. “You could see in his eyes, you could see in his face: ‘OK men, we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to get after it.’ But at the same time he’s going to keep it loose, keep it relaxed, throw in a one-liner here or there.”
Last Saturday, center fielder Adam Jones wasn’t on the travel squad to Port Charlotte. He was sitting in front of his locker at 10:30, showing a reporter pictures on his iPad when Showalter walked by.
“Man, when you take a day off, you take a day off,” the manager said.
Jones jumped into defense mode, quickly pointing out that he had already hit the batting cage and wasn’t close to leaving the complex.
Showalter nodded, smiled, and walked away.
Throughout the entire spring, no one pulled a hamstring or twisted an ankle during drills or in a game. First baseman Derrick Lee had some issues with his wrist, second baseman Brian Roberts was bothered by back spasms and pitchers Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen were hit by line drives, but they will be ready for opening day.
And so are the Orioles.
“I feel real good about where we are,” Showalter said. “We had a list of things we wanted to accomplish. We had some challenges health-wise, but we’re back on track now. We weren’t fully expecting that. If you had told me we were going to be where we are physically going over to Tampa, I would have signed up for it in blood.”
The aftereffects of Showalter’s first camp with the Orioles won’t be apparent for a while, but the players enter this season ready to compete in the unforgiving AL East.
“I think we’re ready, man. Guys are having great at-bats, defensively they’re doing their work, guys are running out balls, they’re doing things the right way,” Scott said. “No one can predict results, but when we go out on the field, the guys are prepared.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)