Schmuck: Upcoming new era of Orioles baseball gives 2019 FanFest a different feel

It was the newness of it all that made Orioles FanFest feel so different Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The fans haven’t changed, of course. They showed up in decent numbers on a frigid morning to get their first up-close look at new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and rookie manager Brandon Hyde. They came to get autographs from players that, in some cases, they would not recognize on the street.


There has been so much turnover since July that young holdovers such as 26-year-olds Dylan Bundy and Trey Mancini were getting questions about what it will feel like to show up at spring training expected to provide some of their team’s veteran leadership.

“Life can come at you fast sometimes,’’ Mancini said. “I’ve played just over two years here and I’m considered a veteran, so you can get thrown into the fire. It’s happened to me before and I’m absolutely ready to take on that role.”

Near the end of the Orioles’ season-ticket holders’ Q&A with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde on Saturday at FanFest, a longtime Orioles fan boiled down their greatest challenge as simply as anyone could.

Bundy chuckled when somebody asked him during his media session what it will be like to be heading into a season when the outlook for just about every aspect of the team is a mystery.

“Mysteries are exciting,’’ Bundy said, “so it should be a fun year.”

It probably won’t be a thriller, but the dramatic change in the level of expectation all but guarantees 2019 won’t be a horror movie like last year.

FanFest has always been a celebration of the future in advance, so it was no surprise Saturday that the mood of the estimated 8,000 fans who showed up was upbeat and positive. Nobody was holding up a “Playoffs or Bust” sign when Elias and Hyde interacted with the crowd from the main stage, because everyone has had six months to digest the reality of the rebuilding project at hand.

This is a new era of Orioles baseball and it is going to take some time to mold all these bright-eyed young players into a contending team. But that doesn’t mean it will be without intrigue and interesting storylines.

Will new center fielder Cedric Mullins grow into a top-flight major league leadoff hitter? Can Chance Sisco shake off a disappointing 2018 season and claim the starting job behind the plate? Will DJ Stewart or Austin Hays take over right field?

“It’s a totally different feel, but it’s actually really exciting to have a lot of young guys here,’’ Mancini said. “It’s going to be a really energetic team and I’m really excited to get started.”

For the young players who got a taste of the big leagues last season, the front office and coaching turnover is double-edged. Depending on how they performed, this spring will present a fresh start or the challenge of trying to prove themselves all over again.

“When we get together as a big group, it’s kind of like we’re just all sheep right now,’’ said reliever Paul Fry, who got into 35 big league games last season. “We don’t really know what to do, but we’re getting there.”

Orioles outfielder-designated hitter Mark Trumbo said he believes being ready for Opening Day could be a possibility after knee surgery late last season and an offseason of rehabilitation.

For the true veterans, there also are major challenges ahead. Chris Davis’ struggles the past couple of years are well-documented and he can only hope a change in the coaching dynamic will help him re-establish himself as a big-time run producer. Mark Trumbo is working his way back from knee surgery and said he’s hoping to be ready for Opening Day.

Starting pitchers Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner were not in attendance Saturday, but both are coming off disappointing seasons and need to re-establish themselves, if only to become tradable to a contending team at midseason.

It’s a new day for everyone. Hyde fielded questions about some of his players during his media session, but had to concede that you can only learn so much from scouting reports and stat sheets. He got some face time with a portion of the roster at the Orioles’ annual minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., earlier this month, but said he’ll need all of spring training to become fully familiar with the talent throughout the system.


“I’m familiar from video. … I know their stats and I know where guys played last year and I’ve seen some play in the past,’’ Hyde said. “But I was in the National League Central and we didn’t play [against them] in interleague this last year, so I don’t know the players that well. That’s what the next two months is going to be, is getting to know them as well as we can and making really good decisions with Mike and understanding that this is a development deal and we’re going to put guys in a position to have success.”

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