Baseball

Becoming An Orioles Minor League Ambassador

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How I became an Orioles minor league ambassador out of nowhere isn’t complicated at all. Instead there have been lots of factors working together to create a unique and exclusive opportunity that I still can’t believe has happened.

Today, Monday January 31st I’m driving to observe, evaluate and film part of their hitting camp practice through cracks in a chain-link fence. They stopped winning consistently years ago, fans were forced to either give up or find something else to focus on. There were staffers with eyes on their own outcomes, no plan for the future and a collective of retreads for decades somehow squeezing success out of the 2012-2015 window. After that the cliff came, and we all were forced to jump except for Manny Machado. Not the scenario we envisioned when he and Schoop were rising through the farm. Any more recapping is purposeless. They have underachieved in many ways, especially if you focus on the ability to win now and soon.

Today, Monday January 31st I’m driving to observe, evaluate and film part of their hitting camp practice through cracks in a chain-link fence. They stopped winning consistently years ago, fans were forced to either give up or find something else to focus on. There were staffers with eyes on their own outcomes, no plan for the future and a collective of retreads for decades somehow squeezing success out of the 2012-2015 window. After that the cliff came, and we all were forced to jump except for Manny Machado. Not the scenario we envisioned when he and Schoop were rising through the farm. Any more recapping is purposeless. They have underachieved in many ways, especially if you focus on the ability to win now and soon.

My company, The Baltimore Snowball Factory had a contract to sell the icy treats during O’s Spring Training games. This was a great opportunity to be around the stadium and team plus I could cash in on my new climate which was so very nice. Perfect!

In February of 2019 I was mentally preparing for a spring game later that evening when I was hit while biking. Lots of progress had been stopped.

Recovering was difficult in lots of ways, most of them fortunately were physical. There was time in the hospital to brainstorm so I thought about so much, including my team and how they’d be better.

I healed up quickly and fortunately got to move on but the O’s had so many more questions than answers for me. I was happy to have moved on from Machado, as much as I loved his skills but what came next? It ate at me to not have a clue.

During recovery I was required to cut back on lots of exercise however walking was encouraged and I could increase distance as much as it was tolerable. This is the part where the stadium within proximity comes into play. I extended the walks to Ed Smith and one day it sounded like there was a game going on. I walked in.

It was the 2019 Gulf Coast League Orioles taking on the rookie league affiliate for the Atlanta Braves. We won. Led by Alan Mills, my neighborhood team played outstanding crisp baseball and won the league. Every day, as a hungry fan I wanted more. And they delivered week after scorchingly hot week.

The beat writers in Baltimore are beyond top notch and there are now podcasts and pages aplenty. Back then there was http://OriolesHangout.com which was my source for info on the minor leagues. Subscribing was a privilege as I had the best info along with the juiciest details on all the prospects I yearned to know more about. Even memorizing every single page and refreshing thousands of times an hour it wasn’t enough. The site still exists. Check it out, it’s a lot.

Gunnar Henderson was the first player to catch my eye at shortstop and next to him Darell Hernaiz made for a fine double play partner. The competitive and run scoring lineup had answers for every staff. Power and speed however you want it. International names mixed with players from that years draft so there were contributions from all over. The bullpen protected leads before closing games out nice and easy. Nick Roth kept everything low in the zone so there were little if any hiccups on the way to the title.

It was the kind of team to be proud of and I still am today. I realized that I could be close to these guys, after all I was the only fan at these games so it started some of those gears turning in my head. I wondered if I could maybe tell other fans about these players and how the dominated the league. They would just love Gunnar and his fielding prowess/posture! I got in touch with the site and asked if they’d like to have me as their correspondent to do just that and they quickly agreed.

From broken body to having a press pass to watch the Baby Birds in the cages was quite a lot of ground to cover but it felt like only a beginning, not in any way like a destination. I got more info and wrote a notes column each day from the next season’s spring training and camps. I was there every single day from beginning to end. I hid Gatorades for myself around the complex in the heat. Watching as many drills and scrimmages as my old iPhone could hold, my Twitter became the video server for OriolesHangout and I got to share it all with fans who wanted exactly what I wanted. The access was vital and so helpful. The sharing became more than motivational. That has not left. Some of the names I want to include have moved on from the team or the sport and then not being around is as strong a motivating force as I’ve ever felt.

Since then it’s been a couple years of: following the rookie leagues extensively and still being their only in-stadium supporter, writing about what I see (mostly fact), interviewing lots of players, meeting lots of players families and coaches, podcasting on my own and with lots of others educating them on the true talent I see improving daily. Sounds like a role I’m made for.

You see now how driving to spend hours biking around practice fields mostly obstructed to provide a glimpse of a batting practice round or a defensive drill or two makes slightly more sense. It’s fun to do this but the supporter in me drives the desire to keep fans apprised. There’s no detail or neat nugget I’ll keep to myself if I see it and if I can enhance it with video or pictures, well I’ve updated my iPhone with Birdland in mind.

In summary I’ll tell anyone anywhere that I can certainly be objective about my team, but while their farm is flexing I will let everybody know that too. Proudly. It’s time for the large population of O’s fans to forget the bad and move on embracing the organization’s growth mentality. Laser armed righty Zach Peek doesn’t care how that 2012-2015 window left us empty. He shouldn’t. What I’ve seen being built is amazing on its own while being so philosophically different than what was in place before. There are simply different personality types driving the team now on and off the field. That needed to happen.

I’ll always wonder if I really moved down here to start following the Orioles minors from this perspective without knowing it. Being a lifelong and fully invested fan you’ve sometimes got to let fate play out. When the Orioles finally break through with a group of players I’ve watched grow right in front of my eyes and have been able to share with other supporters, it’ll be the perfect scenario for all of us. Let’s start thinking it’s soon.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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