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Stay the course

The Baltimore Sun

Slowly but surely, the ship is being turned in the right direction. It's June, and the Orioles are still hanging around .500. They're ending the siege of the road uniforms and rebranding the franchise with its home city. There were only about 40,000 Boston Red Sox fans in Camden Yards for each game of this series.

And the long-suffering faithful are thrilled, even borderline satisfied, about what's happening, even if conditions Saturday night were such that Manny Ramirez could tell reporters that he was happy to hit his 500th home run "here, in front of our fans."

The only way to keep this going is to keep this going. All the way to ... the next several years. Not this year. Not to a possible late-summer run at playoff contention. Not to a temptation to stand pat at or before the trade deadline.

All the way to where the Orioles have been steering things since the day 11 1/2 months ago that owner Peter Angelos blew things up and started putting them back together again. The process began with hiring Andy MacPhail as president of baseball operations and continued with the hiring of manager Dave Trembley and the eventual trades of Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard.

The Orioles are surprising even themselves with this premature run at respectability. MacPhail told The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec last week that he's not obligated to stick with the same plan he laid out when he first took over and that he is willing to change with the times. He does not, he said, "have any interest in pulling the rug out from underneath them [the players]."

It wasn't a commitment to take his chances with this group in place now. Nor was it a pledge to stay with the top-to-bottom rebuilding blueprint. He has the luxury of not having to make that decision yet.

Here's one vote for staying with the blueprint. If it comes to making a move to win now or later, please, win later. For longer. For as long as the late, lamented Oriole Way guided the team, if possible.

If it means torching these thin but promising dreams of contention - for the fans, even for the players MacPhail has rightly praised - so be it. They all will understand. Won't they?

It's not about the past anymore, MacPhail and Co. are making it clear. But it's not so much about the present, either. It's still about the future. It must all be about the future. In fact, this should be viewed not as the present, but as the future getting here early. Maybe that will help us all keep things in perspective.

After all, the biggest decisions made since June 18 to feed the long-term vision also happen to be the main reasons the Orioles are succeeding short term.

Trembley is largely responsible for making everybody play and act more professionally, but the original idea was for him to instill the concept in the youngsters.

Meanwhile, Tejada and Bedard were productive and had names and games that would put people in the seats - but they were more valuable as commodities. Trading them was a tough call, and the payoff wouldn't be apparent soon. Except that it has come soon, only to raise the possibility that the players here now won't be packaged up the same way.

Perish the thought.

When the day comes that Brian Roberts is traded, it's going to hurt, way more than it did with Tejada and Bedard, for a variety of reasons. The same reasons Kevin Millar is drawing interest from contenders such as, reportedly, the New York Mets, are the same ones that make him valuable here now. All told, yesterday's lineup against the Red Sox included four players (Roberts, Millar, Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton) who are simultaneously big reasons for the current resurgence and fodder for a move that could bring another Adam Jones, Luke Scott or George Sherrill.

Not as prominent but belonging to that group is Ramon Hernandez. In a group of his own - acquired in a big trade while also bait in a future trade - is Sherrill.

They've all helped make the locals authentically proud to claim the Orioles.

They'll all be remembered warmly when they get sent on their way, sacrifices to a future in which "Baltimore" will proudly adorn the road jerseys, in which Red Sox fans are back to being more plentiful in Fenway Park than in Camden Yards.

The present is kind of nice. The future can be glorious. Let's hope that when the time comes, regardless of the standings, MacPhail keeps that in mind.

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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