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'This is not two separate camps': Orioles' Hyde working to unify organizational message in majors, minors

A decade ago, Orioles major league camp literally had the entire state between their spring home in Fort Lauderdale and the minor leaguers on the west coast of Florida at Sarasota's Twin Lakes Park.

It's only a few miles of interstate highway and a couple of turns between Ed Smith Stadium and Twin Lakes now, but Orioles manager Brandon Hyde — a veteran of spring trainings at complexes where everyone was together — has gone out of his way this spring to try to make it feel like there was no distance at all between the major and minor leaguers.

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Hyde, a longtime minor league coach and manager himself, has been bringing minor league coaches over to major league camp two at a time for the past week to give them a feel for what he and his staff are trying to build with the Orioles. The reason being that so much of the goals Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias want to create in building a player development machine will be executed by the player development staffs in the minors.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde supports the 2019 measures for addressing baseball's pace of play, but is in wait-and-see mode on some of the measures that will impact the game itself to take that further in 2020.

"I thought it was important to have some of the guys who were not in big league camp to start with spend a day here, kind of see the environment, listen to our coaches, watch a big league game, just kind of get the feel of what's happening, because we're separate here," Hyde said. "So, for them to come over here ... it's just tying the organization together, and kind of getting everybody on the same page to create the organization that we want to create, to have buy-in from everybody. For me, it's important to have guys see what's going on here that normally don't get to."

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"He knows what it's like to be over in minor league camp, and how important it is for minor league staff people to identify with coming over here and kind of seeing the way he does things, and how things are done over here, and kind of the lay of the land," said Triple-A manager Gary Kendall, who has been at major league camp since the team reported in February. "I think it's a great idea, and I think it kind of pumps up our minor league people.”

Such unity in message and idea is vital for an undertaking the size of what Elias and Hyde were left with. In some instances, that unity had been lacking before the new regime’s arrival. The fractured nature of the Orioles' baseball operations was at times overstated, but the push and pull between manager Buck Showalter and his loyalists, and executive vice president Dan Duquette clouded some decision-making processes.

The point now seems to be to make as many players better as possible, so minor league coaches get a chance to come over and get the run of things at major league camp, and vice versa. Because the majority of the minor league coaches are holdovers from the previous regime and had already signed for 2019 before the front office changes were settled, it could have created an uncomfortable atmosphere. Hyde hasn't let that happen.

Low-A Delmarva manager Kyle Moore, who — like Hyde — signed with the Orioles as an undrafted catcher and has worked his way up to skipper a club, said he was greeted with a handshake and simple instructions when he came to Ed Smith Stadium last weekend: "Make yourself comfortable. Go wherever you want to go, watch whatever you want to watch."

"Just to have that type of reception, where the atmosphere is so open to us being there — the amount of perspective that I gained in five hours over there was tremendous," Moore said.

He marveled at major leaguers doing relay throwing drills that Little League players might do, taking it seriously but having a good time in the process. He saw familiar faces from his years in the organization, and he saw what they meant when they'd told him he wouldn't believe the atmosphere at camp.

"Then when I got over and saw it, I really didn't believe the atmosphere there," Moore said. "It's pretty awesome. It's not what I expected, and it's really awesome."

Many of the coaches who have come over recounted their early interactions with Elias and Hyde, when Elias told them about his plans to build a player development machine like the one he helped build with the Houston Astros. Hyde told them he knows firsthand the sacrifices they make and doesn't take them for granted. But gestures like this show them sincerity.

"There was a lot of inclusion before, too," High-A Frederick pitching coach Justin Lord said. "I don't want it to be a before-and-now-type situation. It's just that this is where we are. I think by having a brand-new major league staff, some new minor league staff and coordinators. I think there was just a way to show that we're all in this together kind of thing. We're all working toward the same goal. I think it did send that message for a new regime to come in and have that mindset and that process in place."

Kendall, the longtime manager at Double-A Bowie, was bumped up to Norfolk this year. He'd typically be in major league camp for the pitchers and catchers portion, then run the minicamp for early arrivers at Twin Lakes while former Norfolk manager Ron Johnson stayed at major league camp. Kendall said Johnson used to run the workouts for players who stayed back for road games. But Kendall has been taking road trips and getting some time with the players who will likely populate his roster, familiar and unfamiliar.

Orioles left-hander Tanner Scott has had an uneven spring, and only recently has seen the walks that have hindered him in the past start to creep in.

Being such a big part of the operation at Ed Smith Stadium with the new staff means he's been lobbed questions by fellow returning coaches about how things are going, and whether everything was as it seemed.

"I've been asked how they are, and not so much whether they're good or bad, but just about what's expected, and about the message that this organization is going to be player development-based, and we're going to get better by developing players, whether it's draft picks or the players we already have,” Kendall said. “They want to know if a philosophy has changed or anything like that. And what the ones who have come over and met Brandon and his coaching staff have walked away with is the energy, and how everybody pulls for one another."

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The major league staff is embracing its opportunity to better get to know the minor league staff, and seeing them in action. Orioles first base coach Arnie Beyeler, also a longtime minor league manager, went to Twin Lakes on Tuesday morning to catch a workout — and catch up with his old minor league roommate, Short-A Aberdeen manager Kevin Bradshaw. Beyeler said practices like this "make it fun, because there's no egos."

On a day when manager Brandon Hyde said he wanted Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini to lighten up on himself and just play free through his slow start to the spring, Mancini did just that.

"I think it's important that we're all in everything together, and it's always been that way most places we've been, for the most part," said Beyeler, a coach on the Boston Red Sox staff when they won the World Series in 2013. "I think when you're successful, that's the way it is. We've all been around, everybody. I've been around Buck back in the past, too, and it was that way when I was around him in the past, over in Texas. It's great with Brandon here, too."

When discussing both this practice and everything else he's done in camp — from pumping music into workouts and shortening the schedule while emphasizing quality of work to encouraging players to be themselves — Hyde is quick to point out he's not doing anything different. It's only what he knows.

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Moore, who has been with the Orioles in one form or another for a decade, said it feels like an entirely new organization. As the Orioles brass entrusts the minor league coaching staff with so much of what the organization values in 2019 and beyond, those coaches are being made to realize their importance.

"It's nice to have recognition to say, 'Your job is important, and you're with us,' ” Moore said. “This is not two separate camps where the minor leagues might be in Fort Lauderdale. We're together, and that to me is important, but it's also just really refreshing."

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