The Sports Scene:

Will The Orioles Be Able To Compete?

by Darrell Carter
It's that time of year again, when the smell of popcorn and peanuts fill the air at the ol' ballpark. The sound of vendors yelling "Hot Dogs, Get Your Hot Dogs" can be heard throughout the stands, and the favorite sound of them all, the sound of the umpire yelling "Play Ball!" In Baltimore. Opening day--this year on April 1--has become an unofficial holiday. The local TV stations preempt regular programming to cover the festivities surrounding Camden Yards and Harborplace, only to have a tourist talk about his hometown team. The corporate folks take a half-day off from work, just so they can chat on their cells phones and make small talk with co-workers. Yes, opening day--what a grand festival!

This reporter has one problem with opening day: Where is the baseball team? The 2002 baseball campaign is going to be a dismal learning experience for local fans. Let's take a look at the projected position starters.

Behind the plate is a lost art in baseball, and many in Baltimore noticed that phenomen last season. Brooke Fordyce started the season as the number one catcher, only to be demoted to the third position. Fordyce said he is committed to changing last season's dismal performance. He batted only a little above .200 and threw out less than 20% of the runners at second. We will hold our breath.

First base will belong to Jay Gibbons and David Segui. Both men will rotate between the designated hitter's position and first base. Segui was injured most of last season. He will either bat in the third or fifth hole behind Jeff Conine. Gibbons, a rule V draftee, emerged last season as the surprise of the club, hitting 15 homeruns, despite being injured during the last month of the season.

Jerry Harrison will start at second base for the second year in a row. Jerry is a third generation Major Leaguer. His shaky performance at second last season had front office personnel debating if Brian Roberts should unseat him. Roberts filled in for the injured Mike Bordick in early August at short, though Roberts could play second.

Shortstop will see a familiar face patrolling the area--oft-injured last season Mike Bordick. The wily veteran had been rumored to be traded during the off-season. Brian Roberts was slated to be his replacement at short.

Cal Ripken at third...oops! I mean Cal Ripken's replacement, Tony Batista, will handle the third base duties. Batista will hear the boo's and the chant, "Ripken would have gotten it." He should ask Brooks Robinson's replacement, Doug Decinces, how it felt to hear the cry for "Brooks!" when a play was booted.

Free agent acquisition Marty Cordova will start in left. The former Minnesota twin will bat, either in the number five or seven hole. A solid spring for Cordova should settle down the naysayers. Known to be a solid outfielder and an intelligent player, Corvera will not hit 40 homeruns, though he is a threat at the plate.

Starting in center will be former White Sox player Chris Singleton. He has been known to get a great jump on the ball with above-average arm strength. The speedy Singleton will remind Baltimore fans of Orioles legend Al Bumbry, also a center.

Right fielder Jeff Conine will settle in right field. The 35-year-old veteran batted .311 with 97 RBI's and had an on-base-average of .400, ranking him third in the Major Leagues last season. Jeff should be happy this season: he just signed a 2-year contract, with a club option for a third.

The ace of the pitching rotation is Scott Erickson. A solid veteran with a history of being healthy, he fell victim to the injury bug last season, when he missed the entire year after undergoing surgery for torn ligaments in his right shoulder.

Bullpen woes will frustrate manager Mike Hargrove. He will depend on veteran Buddy Groom for fast relief. Groom has appeared in 70 or more games over the past five seasons. The future of the bullpen is with hard throwers Kris Foster, Willis Roberts, and Jorge Julio. Overall Orioles prediction: fourth place.

A quick view of the American League Eastern Division:

The New York Yankees are the favorite to win the East and the World Series. Enough said. Well, okay, maybe there's more. Talents continue to improve in the Yankee system. This season, the Rookie of the year candidate is designated hitter Nick Johnson. Johnson, a natural first baseman, would play the position this season, if it were not for the free agent acquisition of homerun hitter Jason Giambi. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, newly signed Robin Ventura, Roger Clemons, Mike Mussina, and (on his second tour with the Yankees) pitcher David Wells are just a few stars in New York. It wouldn't be fair to the other teams if I continue to mention names. Prediction: World Series victory.

In Boston, the curse of the Bambino must be real. This team is blanketed with controversy every season. The most important acquisition this season is the ownership, spearheaded by former Orioles executive Larry Lucchino. Last season, the team was devastated with injuries to star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and catcher Jason Varitek. Prediction: second place.

Canada is about to lose their other Major League team in Montreal to contraction in 2003, though in Toronto, the Blue Jays have had success in the '90s. This season is a rebuilding year; hopefully the Canadians will come out and enjoy "America's Pastime." Carlos Delgado and Raul Mondesi will lead the charge for the young Blue Jays. Prediction: third place.

I am surprised to hear that baseball's commissioner Bud Selig did not add Tampa Bay to the contraction list. The Devil Ray team has been a flop since its acceptance into the league. Analysts believed that Florida was a great place to watch baseball during the regular season. Well, they were wrong. Ask Florida's other team, the Marlins. Both franchises are probably in the second wave of contraction in 2004. Oh, the team--well, there isn't much to talk about. Prediction: last place.

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This story was published on April 4, 2002.