Orioles hope for nice weather, big day in Monday opener

Orioles hope for nice weather, big day in Monday opener
March 30, 2014, 6:00 pm
(David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)

BALTIMORE – Sunday was cold and stormy in Baltimore. Around 3:05 p.m., temperatures were near freezing and not long after that, sleet was falling.

It was hard to believe that Opening Day was 24 hours away. The Monday forecast is a lot more favorable, sunny and 64 degrees.

After a grim winter, Orioles fans are looking forward to the opening, and so are the Orioles.

“It’s not one of 162,” Tommy Hunter said. “You get the little goose bumps you got when you went to Opening Day as a Little Leaguer.”

It’s a special opening day for Hunter, who hasn’t officially been named the closer by manager Buck Showalter, but looks to be the man who he will call on with one-run leads in the ninth.

Hunter is the obvious choice to succeed Jim Johnson, who doesn’t return after 101 saves in the past two years and he didn’t seem unnerved that Showalter has yet to tell him he’ll be called on late in games.

“Somebody’s going to find that out in the ninth inning, hopefully tomorrow,” Hunter said.

[MORE: Markakis questionable for opener]

The Orioles flew north on Saturday, stopping in Norfolk for a rain-truncated game against the Tides, and found more rain at home. They didn’t work out on the field, but did hit in the indoor batting cages in the dugout.

Manny Machado was on hand. He’ll receive his Gold and Platinum Gloves on Monday, then return to Sarasota to continue rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee.

Because Machado is sidelined, Jonathan Schoop made the club. He’s the only rookie on the 25-man roster and should he be the starting second baseman, will be the first rookie starting there since Rich Dauer in 1977, according to STATS.

If he starts, he’ll be the youngest rookie to start an Orioles opening day since Cal Ripken in 1982.

After the Orioles made few moves over the winter, spring training was busy with Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and Johan Santana added. Jimenez will start Wednesday’s second game, Cruz plays on Monday, and perhaps Santana joins the team after completing rehab on his left shoulder.

Forecasts for the division have varied widely. Sports Illustrated picked the Orioles for 78 wins and fourth place. The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner says they’ll lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Predictably, manager Buck Showalter says to ignore the prognosticators.

“I just want us to be as good as we’re capable of being,” Showalter said.

As for Monday’s opener against the world champion Boston Red Sox, Showalter says:

“Statements are made at the end of 162 games.”

Of the Orioles first 19 games, 16 are against Boston, Detroit, New York and Tampa Bay.

“Everybody says you have a real challenging April. Have you looked at May? Have you looked at June? Have you looked at July? There’s a reason it’s been named the most challenging schedule in baseball,” Showalter said.

Spring training was fun. Machado wasn’t ready to start the season, but that’s not a shock. There were new players coming regularly, and should the team be in contention in July, it’s probable that the executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will add some more.

In March, players weren’t on the field for nine innings. They played in front of small crowds in minor league stadiums in mostly nice weather.

On Monday, it changes.

“All the other stuff, it doesn't really matter what I say. It's what we do,” Adam Jones said. “These are major league players. When the lights turn on, you can't be scared now. The third tier is in there and we're at Camden Yards, opening up.”

Chris Tillman gets his first opening day start. He’s comfortable that it’s coming in Baltimore.

“That’s our home. That’s where this group feels comfortable,” Tillman said.

Since last opener, two Marylanders have been added. Infielder Steve Lombardozzi acquired on Monday and backup catcher Steve Clevenger, who cheerfully admits to skipping school as a boy to walk the few blocks from Pigtown to Oriole Park.

Cruz is new, but is comfortable.

“I feel like part of the family already,” he said.

Walking into the clubhouse for the first time in six months, Chris Davis immediately remembered last season.

“Feels like about six minutes since I’ve been here,” Davis said. “Being back in the city and being back in the mix of things stirs up a lot of good emotions.”

There will be some good feelings on Monday, and some sad ones, too. On Sunday, a plaque commemorating the life of Monica Barlow, the Orioles public relations director who died last month at 36 of cancer, was mounted in the press box.

She was a part of so many opening days, and while Monday will surely be fun, it just won’t be the same.