SARASOTA, Fla. — Early in the morning last Sunday, Feb. 19, the Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers opened spring training at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., under dark skies and a weather forecast of foreboding thunderstorms.
(The sports forecast for the team this summer is also cloudy, dark and foreboding. I arrived in Sarasota last week to unseasonal warm temperatures, but certainly not as warm as the hot seat Buck Showalter, the 55-year-old Florida native and returning Orioles manager, must be feeling.)
The future of the Orioles has yet to be played out, but perhaps one thing we do know is that baseball has a rich history in Maryland, and Carroll County has always had a celebrated love affair with the game.
On Feb. 19, 1898, the now-defunct American Sentinel newspaper, reported, "A hundred or more people assembled in Mr. Stem's field, near Sam's Creek, on last Saturday, to witness a game of ball between the Marston and Oak Orchard nines."
But that wasn't the earlier game in town. Not hardly. Historian Richard Hershberger wrote an article for the Historical Society of Carroll County a number of years ago in which he observed: "Baseball came to Westminster the year after the end of the Civil War. Bat-and-ball games had been played since time immemorial, but modern baseball is descended from the game as played in New York City in the 1840s."
Hershberger records that one of the earliest references to baseball in Carroll was the "Olympian Base Ball Club (which) was founded on April 14, 1866."
That may just put Carroll County ahead of Baltimore. A number of media sources, including VisitBaltimore.org, the website for Baltimore Convention & Tourism Board, reports the first mention of baseball in Baltimore came in 1882, "when Harry Vonderhorst sponsored a Baltimore team in" what was then known as the American Association of baseball clubs, (1882-1891.)
"In 1894, the (at that time, National League) Baltimore Orioles won their first professional baseball championship…(In) 1903 the team moved to New York and eventually became today's NY Yankees."
The current Baltimore Orioles franchise began playing baseball in 1954 in Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street (1950-1991,) after it was announced on Sept. 28, 1953, that the St. Louis Browns were moving to Baltimore.
The humble beginnings of the St. Louis Browns may be traced to the Milwaukee Brewers, which formed in 1894; years before 1900 when the minor league Western League reorganized as the American League.
Hopefully the 2012 Baltimore Orioles will fare better than the 1885 squad that was bested by a team from Westminster.
Historian Jay Graybeal researched that event for the historical society several years ago and wrote, "One of the great stories from the county's sports history is the June 1885 baseball game between the Westminster Base Ball Club and the Baltimore Orioles."
Graybeal quoted a newspaper article which noted, "The Westminster Base Ball Club on Monday last, the 22d, won the most remarkable victory in their history, defeating (the) Baltimore team by a score of 9 to 7."
When he's not trying out as a walk-on candidate for Orioles' spring training, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.