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Why are the Orioles players all going forward with this season? Their careers are on the line

Mike Elias, the man charged with guiding the Orioles through a homegrown rebuilding process that now features this summer’s coronavirus-caused detour, has been steadfast this week that if anyone on the major league team wanted to opt out of the 2020 season, the team would understand.

Manager Brandon Hyde said as much Friday during the team’s first workout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, noting that COVID-19 “is a real thing” and he’s “seen the wide spectrum of what it can do” from people in his life who have contracted the disease. That would put him in “total understanding for whatever decision” an Orioles player made.

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And yet no one on the team has opted out. The Orioles added 45 players to their camp roster so far, and they all showed. Many came from parts of the country such as Florida and Texas where COVID-19 is spiking. They, like Hyde, likely understand that the threat is real.

But hidden in Elias’ response to the whimsical idea that this season could produce an Orioles playoff run during a media session earlier this week was perhaps the real reason why they’re all here trying to launch a baseball season in a global pandemic.

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“We’re going to have a bunch of guys that are playing out there with their careers on the line,” Elias said.

He meant it as a way to allow for the possibility of vast overachieving from a team that’s projected to be the worst in baseball this year, and would have been whether the season was 162 games long or 60.

The teams was assembled with a collection of players from minor league free agent signings, waiver claims and inexpensive younger players who haven’t gotten full chances elsewhere.

They might have concerns about COVID-19. They might not know anything else in their life than baseball and have been itching to get back to their vocation the way so many have for months.

They also, almost to a man, have been elsewhere in their baseball careers and were not given a chance, and might not have the one they do now were it not with the Orioles. Last year’s batch of waiver claims turned starters, including catcher Pedro Severino, third baseman Rio Ruiz, second baseman Hanser Alberto and left fielder Dwight Smith Jr., all realized that. Those players probably haven’t lost that mindset.

Some around the team felt in spring training that so many of the up-and-down pitchers who struggled in 2019 were going to be more consistent, if not better, for it this season.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are veterans such as Chris Davis, who said he was always going to play unless he ended up being at a higher risk for COVID-19. There are also pitchers such as veteran left-handers Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc, who signed with the Orioles on minor league deals so they could get a major league rotation spot that otherwise wasn’t available to them.

For those who have years of experience such as them to those who are just eager for a taste of the majors, there’s no denying the incentives to be in the big leagues if this is the life someone has chosen. And the past few years have shown that major league opportunities simply don’t await players who wash out with the Orioles. Imagine what would happen if someone did so voluntarily.

The alternative is to stay as safe as possible while trying to play baseball in a world that’s still dealing with the coronavirus on a daily basis.

The Orioles players who detailed the protocols and procedures for returning to play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards described incredible attention to detail from the team’s staff to try and keep players safe from COVID-19 spreading at the ballpark. Davis said he tried to envision it before he arrived, but it was even more detailed and personalized than what he had in his mind.

He also said multiple times that positive tests were inevitable.

“It’s just going to be tough to navigate this whole thing with the virus spiking in certain places throughout the country. It’s going to be kind of touch-and-feel for the first few weeks, if not the whole time,” Davis said.

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Across the league, players seem uncertain as to how baseball’s grand experiment will go. Even Friday, another player dropped out in former Orioles catcher Welington Castillo, now with the Washington Nationals.

More will likely follow. But there’s a reason why, at least for now, the Orioles’ players aren’t among them.

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