"The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen."
- Hall of Famer Bob Lemon
The pilgrimage to Florida has begun and I'm excited about heading to spring training for the second time. My first trip was a magical experience back in 2000, three years removed from the Orioles' wire-to-wire American League East first-place finish in 1997. Oh how times have changed
In 2000, I was 23 years old, and the Orioles were king to my friends and me. Our fantasy island was migrating to Florida for a week to watch another season unfold. Taking photos with several of the players was definitely one of the trip highlights. Jerry Hairston Jr. was gracious with photo requests. I also remember Cal Ripken Jr. signing autographs for hours. We bombarded the beloved Elrod Hendricks day after day with requests for balls and pictures. Elrod was great but our constant barrage finally forced him to drop his bags one afternoon and ask us when we were going to leave him alone and go back to Baltimore.
In Port Charlotte, we taunted Rafael Palmeiro, who was starting his second season with the Texas Rangers. It was OK he left Baltimore -- we had Calvin Pickering, who was "destined" to become the next Eddie Murray. Country icon Garth Brooks played in one game for the New York Mets against the Orioles in Port St. Lucie. And somehow we made it to the final game during our trip, despite running out of gas on the Florida Turnpike. I often wonder if that rental car ever recovered from our journey. These were all wonderful and unique baseball memories shared with friends.
We grew up at Memorial Stadium and went to bed listening to Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller. We never really had a football team to follow. Oriole Magic was a way of life -- it was a devotion to something special.
The Ravens were on the cusp of winning their first Super Bowl and transforming our proud city into a football town. The Ravens' winning ways and work in the community started to spark a love affair as the Orioles began to lose touch. Seven years later, I'm a PSL holder and avid Ravens supporter, while my attraction to the Orioles has waned.
I'm brought back to Florida mostly for the weather and to spend time with friends. I'm also here to find out how badly the Orioles want to win. I've been down here for 1 1/2 days and I've already hit the dog tracks, watched a jai alai game and taken in the sites and sounds of Daytona Beach's Bike Week.
Now it's time to get down to business and watch the O's for three straight days. The outfield grass, cold beers and tranquility of baseball have always brought me back. But this time I feel the Orioles owe me something. I've stayed loyal to the team while others haven't, and with good reason. I actually attended the fan protest last year and walked out on my team. It was one of the most unsettling and awkward experiences of my life. But I'm back in Florida with a chip on my shoulder.
Miguel Tejada better be running out ground balls. Rodrigo Lopez is finally gone so I don't have to hear him complain about going to the bullpen. Can Daniel Cabrera throw a strike? I'm interested to see if Adam Loewen can mature and turn into a pitcher. Can $43 million buy a bullpen? Sam Perlozzo needs to expect his team to win. I need passion coming out of those orange uniforms. How badly does the stoic Mike Flanagan want to win? I applaud the Orioles' signing of Aubrey Huff and I think he can have a monster year playing in Camden Yards.
The Orioles need attitude and the organization needs to find a way to reconnect with its city. I'm doing my part. The next three days mean a lot to me and should mean a lot to the team. Oh, I'm serious. About as serious as Albert Belle glaring at me when I asked him for a foul ball seven years ago in Fort Myers.
It's almost time to head south to Viera for the Orioles-Nationals (March 2) game and then to Fort Lauderdale for two games. I'm ready, locked and loaded, and focused to see what the 2007 Orioles are all about and if they want it. I know I'll have a fabulous weekend regardless of what happens on the field. I want that Magic feeling again -- they need to finally come through. I'm tired of watching "Orioles Classics" on MASN and feeling depressed. I'll always have my friends, but the Orioles and their new bullpen need to show me something. After all, isn't that what it's all about?
Throughout spring training, baltimoresun.com will publish reports by Orioles fans that made the trip to Florida for baseball's preseason. From Grapefruit League games to minor league camps, our crew of fan correspondents will weigh in with their spring training insights and experiences -- your source for a healthy dose of spring fever.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun