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Starting over

Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers report for spring training tomorrow. That's traditionally a harbinger of spring and news to warm the cockles of a baseball fan's heart. The season is a mere six weeks away, and thoughts of life's better things - green grass, cold beer and the pleasant smells of Boog's barbecue - can usually be counted on to help us weather the winter's remaining unpleasantries.

But this has not been a typical Orioles off-season. Instead of signing a few new players of modest stature and talking up this or that youthful pitching prospect, the management has decided to stop using Band-Aids and do some major surgery on the team.

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The centerpiece of this was the trade of ace left-hander Erik Bedard to Seattle for a handful of players, the most highly touted of whom, centerfielder Adam Jones, batted .246 last season with the Mariners. The team took similar action with Miguel Tejada, trading the former American League MVP and four-time All-Star to Houston for five even more anonymous souls.

The reasoning was clear: After a decade of losing seasons, Andy McPhail decided to dismantle the Tinker Toy team he inherited so he can rebuild it into something sturdier, and he's apparently done so with the blessings of team owner Peter G. Angelos.

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Whether these deals will prove successful is for others to debate on sports pages, blogs and talk shows. Second-guessing is, after all, one of the great joys of baseball. But for the average fan, this loss of what few stars the team had is still difficult to digest.

Mr. Bedard was widely regarded as the best homegrown pitching prospect the Orioles have seen since Mike Mussina. Watching him succeed elsewhere - as he's almost certainly bound to do - is likely to leave a sour taste.

Yet it's notable that the biggest complaint heard from fans so far is that a roster shake-up was overdue. As an organization, the Orioles spent too many years in denial about their also-ran status. Attendance has suffered, and now, with the Nationals opening in a fancy new ballpark and seemingly a little bit ahead in the rebuilding process, the lure of a D.C. field trip is greater than ever.

Still, this is February. If fans can't find reason for optimism now, they've chosen the wrong sport. Other teams have had great success by dismantling and rebuilding. True Orioles fans can handle a bit of deferred gratification (they've waited this long, haven't they?) - if better days lie ahead.


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