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Orioles 2017: Is the Ballpark the Thing?

Christopher Paulin/flickr

There’s an old trick among sports executives and marketers that if your team is devoid of talent or hope for the coming season, you instead play up anniversaries or even facilities.

We’ll have an interesting indication of how good the Orioles brass think the team will be this year if they push the 25th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Not that the silver anniversary of the ballpark isn’t worth the attention. Oriole Park heralded in a new generation of smaller, retro-feel facilities that have been all the rage around the game.

Seemingly, everybody’s got a new park. In the case of Atlanta, the Braves are opening their second new stadium since Camden Yards opened, but none are better than the original.

But if all we’re talking about here in Baltimore is Oriole Park’s big milestone this summer, then 2017 will be a lousy season in Birdland.

When we left the Orioles last October, they had advanced to the postseason for the third time since 2012 – all in even-numbered years.

The Birds got into the playoffs as the second wild card, only to be unceremoniously ushered out when Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion clubbed a three-run homer in the 11th inning of the wild card game.

Encarnacion signed with Cleveland in the offseason, but the baseball scheduling gods saw fit to have the rest of his former teammates open the 2017 season here in Baltimore.

The faces across the field from the Blue Jays are likely to look familiar. That’s because the Orioles made few major changes to their roster.

With the exception of catcher Matt Wieters, who fled for the Washington Nationals, the Orioles’ regulars who faced Toronto are pretty much the same.

The team resigned Mark Trumbo, the major-league home run leader last season, to a new contract. He’ll help fill the middle of the lineup, along with Adam Jones and Chris Davis. And this should be the season that Manny Machado takes his rightful place among the best players in the game.

But the Orioles continue to struggle when they don’t hit home runs. That’s not a flaw that a team with World Series aspirations can continue to avoid addressing.

What should be even more concerning to Orioles fans is the inability slash unwillingness of the front office to get a front-line starting pitcher.

The club’s most reliable starter, Chris Tillman, will open the season on the disabled list with a shoulder issue. He should be fine eventually, but that still leaves the Birds down a man in the place they can least afford it for a while.

Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy should be key parts of the rotation, but they are young and largely unproven. Which brings us to Ubaldo Jimenez, the guy who gave up the homer to Encarnacion last October.

While one home run shouldn’t be enough to doom a guy, Jimenez’s penchant for issuing walks and untimely hits should have sent him packing, but his contract combined with owner Peter Angelos’ penchant for not wanting to erase a costly mistake will keep him around.

Camden Yards is truly a place of splendor, but its historic status shouldn’t be the focus of 2017. Alas, it’s already looking like it will be.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.