Sixty-three years ago this month, the 1954 Orioles arrived in Yuma, Ariz., for their first spring training. The city treated them like kings. A banner strung across the main drag welcomed the team to town, as did a giant float with a huge Oriole bird on top. And on days when the club played at home, schools let out early so children could attend the games.
The Orioles (nee St. Louis Browns) were, with few exceptions, a mishmash of journeymen who’d go 54-100 that season. But in Yuma, they found their oasis, winning their first five exhibition games and going 12-5 there.
Never mind the blistering heat, swirling sandstorms that cancelled games and 300-mile road trips over prickly terrain. Wearing hand-me-down uniforms from the woebegone Browns, the Orioles banged out win after win, hitting six home runs in one game. (They’d manage just 52 all year). The media cozied up to the would-be stars. In some workouts, reporters took part in the hitting and pitching.
Players stayed in the Flamingo Hotel (“cooled by refrigeration”) and attended civic fetes, from a banquet hosted by comedian Joe E. Brown to a “chuck wagon breakfast” of steak and eggs cooked up by the Yuma Sheriff’s Posse.
The Orioles broke camp on March 26, having won the Arizona Cactus League championship (only four teams trained there) and the 27-inch trophy that went with it. For three weeks they trekked east, by bus and rail, barnstorming their way back to Baltimore by playing other big-league clubs in baseball-starved cities. They finished 18-12, fourth-best spring training record of the then-16 teams in the majors.
They’d not return to Yuma in 1955, opting for Daytona Beach instead.