When the 2018 Orioles assemble Sunday night for Showalter’s annual off-site team-building event, there is going to be a refresher course.
“This is not going to be a celebration of the 2017 season at this meeting Sunday night, trust me,” Showalter said.
The past few seasons, the evening has featured a highlight film or some kind of upbeat video retrospective, but that was when the Orioles were building the best regular-season record in the American League over a five-year period and reaching the playoffs in three of those five years.
Last year featured a dramatic U-turn and a late-season collapse that convinced Showalter that it’s time to remind everyone what it will take to compete in a division where the big-market teams are ascendant and the Orioles cannot afford to compete with them on an economic level.
The Orioles did that for five years by being one of the best defensive teams in baseball and excelling at a high percentage of the fundamental aspects of the game.
“You kind of remind yourself what we have to do to make up the gap between us and teams with $200 million payrolls and endless Latin American imports and endless free agents and trades,” Showalter said. “But we can do it and we just have to stay on top of those other things.”
So, what changed last year?
Well, nobody made a conscious decision to stop focusing on the finer points of playing baseball and — nobody’s kidding themselves — the biggest problem was the frightful starting rotation. But the Orioles also were assimilating a new starting catcher and filling in for steady shortstop J.J. Hardy with a young guy who had no time to get with the program.
“And that’s what’s tough when you get a lot of new people in here,” Showalter said. “We just have to get some of that trust back among each other and with our fans. We didn’t intentionally get away from that, but I can tell you the things we weren’t as good at that showed up, and we have to be relentless with it. It’s not perfect every night, but I can give you 20 examples in a couple of games and they’ll hear that.”
Showalter is careful not to give the impression that he has reinvented the game in his own image, but he has long been a stickler for the little things and he has never apologized for insisting that everyone who plays for him becomes one, too.
“There are some things that you can lead them to the trough, but they’ve got to be willing to drink,” he said. “The meetings we’ve had as a coaching staff in the offseason and here, I think everybody understands where I’m coming from.
“It’s not some special program that someone else isn’t trying to do. It’s just, I talked about it when I first got here, ‘Who are we and how are we going to do it?’ And let’s not confuse the fans. And I think there’s going to be some redefinition of expectations of how we do things.”
To put it simply, there is no better time than the present for getting everybody in camp on the same page … and what better than the lingering sting of a last-place finish to get everyone’s undivided attention?
“If people have some thin skin here, they’re going to have a problem,” Showalter said, “because this won’t be a place for thin-skinned people.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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