Orioles manager Buck Showalter will likely be airborne and Houston-bound Sunday night, and is hoping beyond hope that the airplane televisions are working so he can enjoy the culmination of his offseason passion — women's basketball.
The Mississippi State alumnus freely acknowledges that his fascination with the sport stems from his alma mater's recent success in it, and the school plays Notre Dame for the national championship. But its run near the top of the sport has made him grow fond of what the game has to offer.
"I think it's pure basketball, the way we all [remember]," Showalter said on a particularly slow Sunday morning before the Orioles played their series finale with the Minnesota Twins. "They play on both ends of the court; the effort is there. It's just a real team. They just about all shoot free throws pretty well. They don't make a lot of emotional mistakes — I like watching it because Mississippi State is good. Let's face it."
Showalter has become a fan of the Bulldogs, attending games this season and developing a relationship with coach Vic Schaefer.
Showalter spent Friday night, the team's day off after Opening Day, watching the pair of overtime national semifinals between Connecticut and Notre Dame and Mississippi State and Louisville. Like everyone else who watched it, he came away with a firm appreciation for what he'd watched.
"It just seems to be a real sincere purity about the competition," Showalter said. "It's not just watching it through the year and the years, now that they're good — they're going to lose three seniors, but they've got one of the top recruiting classes. If you look at the people Connecticut has — Connecticut gets the first pick of just about everybody. It's so competitive and you get so many good teams.
"You don't realize how big and athletic these girls are until you pull up somebody and you're standing next to someone you know. That's being played better than it ever has. I can remember my mother used to talk about six people on a team, where four of them could cross half-court. .... It's just there's a dynamic there that I think is real cool to watch."
Sunday will be the Bulldogs' second straight trip to the national title game. After upsetting Connecticut in the semifinal last season, they fell to South Carolina in the final.
Designated hitter-outfielder Mark Trumbo said he's "progressing real nicely" as he prepares to go to Sarasota to continue his rehabilitation from a quadriceps strain that has him on the disabled list.
His return will be "fairly soon," but he cautioned that he won't rush things from either a physical or mental standpoint.
"We need to make sure everything's in order before we jump ahead and make sure this thing's right so it doesn't linger any longer than it has to," Trumbo said.
On Saturday, Showalter said Trumbo will play in extended spring training games once they begin Friday. Trumbo hopes to get some simulated games before then, perhaps against right-hander Alex Cobb.
Around the horn
Showalter said left-hander Chris Lee (oblique) is nearing returning to a mound, and is so close to game action that the team didn't consider placing him on the 60-day disabled list when it needed roster spots Thursday. ... The Orioles welcomed super-fan Mo Gaba, 11, to meet with players ahead of Sunday's Kids’ Opening Day festivities. Left fielder Trey Mancini, third baseman Tim Beckham and reliever Mychal Givens visited with him on the field.