Orioles: Birdland Caravan flies through Westminster
By Eric Bem
Carroll County Times|
Feb 10, 2020 at 6:00 AM
The Birdland Caravan rolled into Westminster on Sunday, and the Winters Mill baseball team was given a rare opportunity to talk shop with one of the best to ever play the game.
Orioles Hall of Famer Eddie Murray joined current Birds Rio Ruiz and Dwight Smith Jr. in hosting a hitting clinic at Players Fun Zone.
“It was fun [teaching] the kids because I know we hit on something,” Murray said. “They got it. You can tell when you touch one of them with something. That was a good thing.”
Murray’s trademark big smile and hearty laugh were on display as his students of the game looked on during the opening session of the clinic. “Steady Eddie,” as he is known in Baltimore, shared many of the insights that helped make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 504 home runs and more than 3,200 hits.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to get hitting instruction from proven major league hitters and a Hall of Famer,” said Winters Mill coach Erik Barnes. “It’s also good for me to hear some of the things they are stressing. It provides validation for some of the instruction that we are providing. Hearing these guys that have had their success validate some of the things we are teaching is really important.”
Murray instructed students on how his approach to hitting allows players to optimize the time a bat spends in the hitting zone. He talked about being relaxed, not going full tilt on every swing and remembering to enjoy the game.
Murray shared several anecdotes from his career, including one where he said actor Charlie Sheen is “a heck of a hitter,” bringing laughter and smiles to the faces of everyone in the crowd.
“It’s just a matter of getting them out here to work on things and relax,” Murray said. “I felt one kid’s chest, felt like his heart was about to jump out. I told him, ‘Relax, just relax.’ He laughed. This game is supposed to be fun.”
After the opening session, the players took to the cages and received one-on-one instruction from Murray and both players. Murray watched closely, offering encouragement and tips along the way.
“It’s a great experience. A lot of people don’t get the chance to just talk to them about anything you want,” Winters Mill junior John Bobnar said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The hitting clinic was part of the Orioles’ Birdland Caravan program. The events are part of an effort by the Orioles to drum up excitement heading into their upcoming season.
Third baseman Rio Ruiz said he knows connecting with the community is important with the team’s recent struggles.
“It’s big for the community, especially for the region of Baltimore and the state of Maryland,” he said. “Let everyone know we are thinking about them and we appreciate all the support throughout the entire year. I know it’s not easy. We just want to show our appreciation and show them how thankful we are as an organization.”
Following the clinic, the fun continued at McDaniel College as the caravan rolled into Kenneth R. Gill Stadium for a meet-and-greet with fans. The stadium was a party-like atmosphere as fans arrived well before the event — Shawn Long and Sondra Fox of Hanover, Pennsylvania, showed up at 9 a.m. to be first in line — for their chance to take pictures with and get autographs from Ruiz, Smith, and Murray.
The event attracted fans from all over. Larry Lacey and his son, Dylan, came from Hanover to get the chance to mingle with other fans and Orioles’ players.
“I think it’s a pretty cool event that they would do something like this, free to the fans, to get things going [into baseball season],” Lacey said.
Fans in attendance were given souvenir “Birdland Caravan” posters for the players to sign. Others brought bats, hats, and balls to the events. The Oriole Bird and Green Terror mascots also made appearances and provided entertainment at the kid-friendly event.