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At Orioles FanFest, some fans, but not all, are hungry for free-agent signing

BaseballMajor League BaseballBaltimore OriolesA.J. BurnettMatt WietersSpring Training

Orioles fans flocked to the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday morning, a trail of orange and black surrounding the entire building almost an hour before the doors opened for the club's annual FanFest.

Some came with hopes of good news to awaken them from a sleepy offseason; a surprise addition, perhaps, among the players scheduled to sign autographs and interact with fans.

The Orioles announced Miguel Tejada's return at FanFest in 2010, but this year's event brought no such surprise. Yet despite the club's inactivity on the free-agent market, FanFest drew more than 15,000 fans, according to the Orioles, the second-highest total in the history of the event, trailing only last year's mark of 18,500.

The event — which features autograph sessions, memorabilia booths, interactive games and activities — kicked off the baseball season. This year's FanFest, which was unusually late, took place just 12 days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in Sarasota, Fla.

"My wife and I were talking about it coming in today," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You see the snow on the ground starting to melt. It's kind of a rite of spring. She already told me I need to go down to Sarasota [because] I'm starting to get that far away look in my eye, and I'm not listening to her any more. ... You realize about Opening Day and the thought off another Orioles baseball season means to everybody — to us obviously — but especially to the fans."

A new acquisition might have meant something to fans, too, as some had their minds on free-agent right-hander A.J. Burnett. The Orioles have interest, and Burnett lives in Monkton, and could be lured on a one-year deal.

"I thought they might have something big to announce at some point today," said Scott Luttrell, 39, of Laurel. "I'm hopeful they can get [Burnett]. If they could, I think it would be a pretty decent offseason."

A deal wasn't announced Saturday, but Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette told a group of season-ticket holders "our work isn't done."

"We're going to see what we can do to add a veteran pitcher between now and when spring training starts," Duquette told reporters later. "We think we have a core of a good staff, and if we can add a veteran starter that can stabilize the staff and help us get off to a good start, and some of these young pitchers who we really like should be able to help us later on in the season. But if we can sign a veteran starter, I think that would help fill out our ballclub."

He said he plans to initiate extension talks with pending free-agent shortstop J.J. Hardy between now and Opening Day, and added that the team made a long-term offer to first baseman Chris Davis this offseason and did the same with Matt Wieters the past two springs. Both players could become free agents in 2015.

Duquette said he will continue to try to retain those players before they reach the open market, and emphasized that the Orioles' success will not be built through free agency, but instead through the draft, international signings and trades.

Even if some fans were miffed by the Orioles' inactive offseason, others were happy to see the team and wear orange again.

Jerome Dorsch, of Brooklyn, was one of the first fans in line, arriving at the Convention Center at 6 a.m., some four hours before the doors opened. He carried with him empty bat holders that he hoped to fill with game-used bats. Last year, he bought three, including one used by Wieters.

Westminster resident Samantha Pasley came to FanFest looking to meet three fellow Orioles fans in person for the first time. Twitter brought her and twin sisters Kim and Kerry Schussler of Wilmington, Del., and Federal Hill resident Molly Young together through their common love of the team.

"We just miss wearing orange and black," Pasley said.

"Most of the people we know in Delaware are Phillies fans, so we're outsiders," Kim Schussler said. "So it's nice to have friends here who are Orioles fans."

They weren't among those hungry for an offseason move.

"I appreciate that they are focused on our guys," Kim Schussler said. "They like this team. They want to find those extra pieces, but it's refreshing to hear Buck say he likes this team so that we can win with this team. They're a likable group. That's why I feel it's easy to like the Orioles."

Showalter echoed those sentiments.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about other people's players," he said. "I like our guys. You think Zach Britton or Kevin Gausman or T.J. McFarland, I could go on and on, want us to sign another pitcher? ... There's going to be seven or eight people that are signed this offseason that they're going to say, 'Gosh, why'd we do that?' I don't spend too much time dwelling on them."

Luttrell, who had hoped the club would announce Burnett's signing, brought his 8-year-old son Chase, who wore a Manny Machado All-Star Game jersey and carried around a rolled-up 10-foot Orioles banner on which he has collected about 20 autographs.

Joshua Adey, 10, proudly wore an Adam Jones Team USA World Baseball Classic jersey from last season. His parents, Ray and Beth Adey, have been coming to FanFest together since they met each other 15 years ago.

"We're big fans," said Ray Adey, a Parkville resident. "Give me the choice and I'll take the Orioles in the World Series over the Ravens in the Super Bowl."

The day also gave new players — such as Orioles reliever Ryan Webb — an introduction to the team's fan base.

"I love it," said Webb, the club's most expensive acquisition this offseason after signing a two-year, $4.5-million deal. "I'm really excited to come here. This place is packed out. There are thousands and thousands of people here."

Duquette said he hopes to show those people a new acquisition soon.

"The good news is that we've raised fans' expectations because we've had good ball clubs the last couple years," he said. "And we'd like to improve on that."

eencina@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BaseballMajor League BaseballBaltimore OriolesA.J. BurnettMatt WietersSpring Training
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