A year ago, Orioles fans never dreamed they’d be in this position on Thanksgiving Day. A playoff team with lots of young talent and more on the way, it’s time to give thanks for the past year.
Here are the five things Orioles fans should be thankful for:
1) Adam Jones re-signing
It’s hard for a lot of fans to remember, but at this time last year, the Orioles were fielding trade offers for Jones. He was entering his walk year, but after the team got off to a surprisingly strong start, Jones and the Orioles negotiated a five-year contract extension.
If the Orioles hadn’t started well, they might have looked to move Jones at the trade deadline or attempted to sign him now with lots of competition.
The free agent market isn’t especially attractive this year and Jones would have been one of the top five players on the market. Instead, he’s bound to Baltimore until 2017.
2) Manny Machado
Putting Machado at third base in early August helped save the season for the Orioles. Manager Buck Showalter knew that the team couldn’t survive the final third of the season with weak defense at third.
Wilson Betemit, who moved off third when Machado arrived, was wearing down. Because of injuries, he hardly played in the season’s final two months.
Machado, who hadn’t played third in the minors, made a seamless transition and his hitting was surprisingly robust. His future is bright and so is the Orioles’.
3) Chris Davis
Derided as a fringe major league player when he was acquired from Texas in July 2011, Davis proved last season that he was indeed a legitimate major league hitter.
He led the team with 33 home runs, hit three in a game, and provided the single most entertaining and uplifting performance of the season.
Davis pitched the 16th and 17th innings against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in May. After he had gone 0-for-8 with five strikeouts and a double play, Davis got the win, and was the catalyst for the team’s miracle season.
4) Buck Showalter
Showalter, who narrowly missed being voted the American League’s Manager of the Year, has become one of the most compelling figures in recent Baltimore sports history.
He had perhaps his best year as a manager with a team that won 16 consecutive extra-inning games and a phenomenal 29-9 record in one-run games.
Showalter successfully transitioned Machado to third base, Mark Reynolds to first base and Nick Markakis to leadoff. All those moves were essential to the Orioles’ success, and none of them was conventional.
5) Oriole Park
In its 20th anniversary season, the park looked better than ever. The addition of a new party deck in center field enhanced its attractiveness and the addition of six statues to honor Orioles greats was a classy and yet understated move.
Fans were late to recognize the staying power of the Orioles, but in the season’s last month, the park was as loud and more welcoming to its home team than ever.
“You’re going to see something you’ve never seen before,” I told one Oriole a few hours before a Yankees-Orioles game in September. “More Orioles fans than Yankees fans?” he replied.
Both the Orioles and their fans delivered.