Orioles general manger Mike Elias meets with the media on reporting day for pitchers and catchers in Sarasota, Florida.
In the late summer of 1979, you couldn’t turn on your radio without hearing Michael Jackson belting out one of his first No. 1 singles, appropriately titled “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.”
It was also a big hit in baseball clubhouses, where I unexpectedly found myself when a series of fortunate — or unfortunate circumstances, depending on who we’re talking about — changed my life forever.
Filling in for a couple of co-workers at the Orange County Register, I made road trips with the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels, then was promoted to a full-fledged baseball writer at about this time in 1980.
The only reason this popped into my mind was one of those strange moments that happen to all of us at one time or another. I was driving out of the airport in Tampa on Monday, headed for Sarasota and the start of Orioles spring training on Wednesday, when The Baltimore Sun’s great young O’s writer Jon Meoli reached over and turned on the radio. It shouldn’t take you long to figure out what was playing.
If this is starting to sound like a retirement announcement, it isn’t. Who would ever want to retire from watching baseball games for a living? It was just a reminder that when the Orioles take the field for the first pitcher/catcher workout, I will be starting my fifth decade as a full-time baseball writer. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.
That first year wasn’t easy, but it was an education. What quickly followed was a world championship season with the Dodgers in 1981 and I was hooked for life.
Our old friend Adam Jones loved to talk and tweet about the importance of embracing the grind — and he’s probably already tweeting that in Japanese to a whole new fan base. He was right, of course, and that’s why he ranks highly among the most articulate and interesting players I have had the privilege to cover.
Oh, and also because of this exchange we had a couple years ago: It was on one of Adam’s cranky days and he wasn’t being very cooperative and I couldn’t walk away without getting the last word.
“You know Adam,” I said, “you’re pretty arrogant for a guy who gets paid to hit a ball with a stick and run around in circles.”
Jones didn’t miss a beat.
“Yeah," he said, “but you’re pretty arrogant for a guy who gets paid to WATCH ME hit a ball with a stick and run around in circles."
My first season featured big stars like Rod Carew, Don Baylor and Bobby Grich. My second season was spent in the throes of Fernandomania, as a pudgy left-hander from rural Mexico lit the baseball world on fire and changed the culture of the sport in Southern California.
This year, I’ll be giving my take on the careers of a bunch of guys you had never heard of a year ago and a bunch more you aren’t familiar with yet. The Orioles probably won’t win 60 games all year, but every season is fascinating in its own way.
Hopefully, some fans come along for the ride, because you really never know what’s going to happen.
I was there the night Bill Buckner let that ball sneak through his legs at Shea Stadium. I was in the upper deck at Candlestick Park for the tragic earthquake that rocked the Bay Area in 1989. I played news reporter and ran up hotel points in a dozen or so cities during the great baseball strike of 1994-95. I sat behind a crying Mark McGwire at the congressional steroid hearings in 2005.
We all were there, of course, when Cal Ripken Jr. ran down the Iron Horse and became baseball’s all-time endurance king. I could go on and on, as I did during that ride from the airport on Monday, wondering what it would be like to be near the beginning of this long ride like the young passenger beside me.