They re-signed one of last year's most important finds, Nate McLouth, and added a few other players, but never emerged as serious bidders for stars such as outfielder Josh Hamilton or pitcher Zack Greinke.

The club's projected Opening Day payroll of about $92 million represents a modest increase from last year's $84 million. That figure will likely fall below the league average, which was about $100 million in 2012. And the Yankees, a divisional rival, are again expected to spend more than twice as much as the Orioles.

Some rival executives were surprised that the Orioles didn't hit the market more aggressively. But the club wasn't alone in opting to hoard draft picks rather than sacrifice them for big-ticket free agents.

Showalter and Dan Duquette, the club's executive vice president of baseball operations, have maintained that they could have spent more freely but chose not to, given the relative paucity of attractive options. They're hoping for continued development among the team's young pitchers and for healthy seasons from rightfielder Nick Markakis and second baseman Brian Roberts.

"And we've continued to build our pitching staff and our defense, and the core players are young, where they should continue to improve their offensive capabilities," Duquette said.

The Orioles have long been reluctant to promise on-field success in marketing the team. And that won't change at the start of 2013, despite the promise that lingers from last season. The pitch to fans will still focus on the overall excitement of a trip to Camden Yards.

The ballpark won't feature the kind of big, obvious additions that characterized its 20th anniversary in 2012. The new roof-deck bar in center field and especially the unveiling of six new statues of Orioles legends were among last season's highlights.

This year, fans will have to settle for a new warning track made of crushed stone and a few additional food options.

On the plus side, the Orioles did not raise ticket prices or the prices for most food and drink.

'Waiting to be inspired'

The lack of special events, such as the statue unveilings — four of which drew sellout crowds last year — is one of the reasons club officials are cautious about predicting an attendance bump.

The Orioles will host a celebration of late manager Earl Weaver on April 20 at 2 p.m., an event that is free. On the morning of Orioles FanFest, which drew a record 18,000 fans, the team announced that Weaver died, but those in attendance had little chance to mourn his loss.

The Orioles drew more than 30,000 fans a game as recently as 2005, when they were already deep into their streak of losing seasons. But the average fell all the way to 21,662 in 2010 as hopes of a turnaround faded and the country remained in the grip of a severe economic downturn.

"It's not like they went away," Olney said of the people who packed the ballpark in the years he covered the team. "They were just sort of waiting. Waiting to be inspired."

Sure enough, as a playoff berth seemed more and more realistic, Baltimore delivered large, raucous crowds that lifted the average attendance last season to 26,610, the best since 2007. The 21 percent attendance increase from 2011 was the highest in the major leagues.

The Orioles aren't likely to repeat that spike and pull their average attendance back over 30,000 unless they play even better, said Patrick Rishe, a Webster University economics professor.

"The sustainability of that interest is really dependent on their ability to remain competitive," Rishe said. "If they go back to playing just as badly as before, I wouldn't be surprised if some of those ticket holders cut bait."

A look at the team's history shows that previous surprise years such as 1989 and 1979 produced significant in-season attendance bumps. The Orioles weren't able to replicate those big increases in either case. Still, attendance remained higher than it had before the surprise seasons.

That seems to be roughly what club officials expect in 2013.

"We saw an increase of over 400,000 fans, and I think it's too early to suggest another increase of that level," team spokesman Greg Bader said. "But we're certainly ahead of where we were at this time last season."