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MacPhail, Showalter Stress Patience To Fans

June 25, 2011

B. Roberts has workout with no complications

By Joe Platania

The questions were delivered in typical Baltimore style: fast, furious and oh, so blunt:

"How come it looks like they're not excited and into the game?"

"What's it going to take to beat the Yankees?"

"What's going on with Brian Roberts?"

Given the fact that one of Major League Baseball's most colorful franchises hasn't had a winning season since 1997, the tone of the queries posed by season-ticket holders to Orioles baseball operations president Andy MacPhail and field manager Buck Showalter before Saturday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds was no surprise.

But then again, neither were the responses.

Andy MacPhail  (Courtesy of Baltimore Orioles)

Even though baseball is a game that demands the utmost patience, it is certainly in short supply among the Orioles' fan base, even one that seems to be enjoying watching a team that is a mere five games under .500 with the season's halfway point a mere eight games away.

But Showalter and MacPhail used the club's annual date to address those fans that have the most vested interest in the team to assure them that things are indeed trending in the right direction, even though significant obstacles remain.

"It hasn't been an easy (season) to endure, but we do appreciate your support," MacPhail said. "The players do feed off the energy of the fans, and we're grateful for that, especially after (Friday) night (when Derrek Lee hit a walk-off homer to beat the Reds)."

Showalter agreed.

"Don't think for a second that the guys don't look around (at the fans)," he said. "If something is important to the fans, it's important to the players."

One thing that has clearly held back the club is its performance against the teams it plays the most often, its four American League East rivals.

The Orioles, despite having a winning record against the Central and West divisions and a .500 interleague mark going into Saturday, are a staggering 10-18 against intradivision opposition.

One fan attending the question-and-answer session wore an orange T-shirt that said, "New York's payroll: $200 million … but Baltimore only needs one Buck."

"I can't stand the Yankees, OK?" former New York manager Showalter said to cheers from the crowd. "But you have challenges around every corner. You can't put the focus on one club.

"But once (beating the Yankees regularly) happens, it's going to snowball, and they're going to hate coming into (Oriole Park), believe me."

As for Roberts, McPhail provided the session's only real headline item, stating that the veteran second baseman had his first Sarasota workout "without any complications" early Saturday and that he would return to Pittsburgh to see a concussion specialist there early next week. Yet, the previously stated timetable for his return -- around the All-Star break -- does not seem to have changed.

Looking relaxed in a light orange golf shirt, beige pants and loafers, MacPhail also mentioned that the team has spent gradually more money and resources in its Latin America-based scouting department and that beefing up the middle of the batting order was a priority.

However, citing Major League Baseball Rule 3-J -- the anti-tampering rule -- MacPhail could not directly answer a fan's query about possibly acquiring Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder or St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols during the offseason.

Speaking of contracts, MacPhail refused to address his own situation, preferring instead to wait for the end of the season. "Let's see where we are," he said.

For his part, Showalter displayed his usual defiant, devil-may-care attitude toward the Orioles' plight, but with a sense of humor. When moderator Jim Hunter asked how many fans were present for the previous night's extra-inning win, Showalter -- the focus of Saturday's bobblehead promotion -- raised his own hand to gales of laughter.

As for the fans' frustration, Showalter is fond of saying, "I got it" quite often. But he was quick to point out that even his anxiousness to win doesn't match that of MacPhail.

"I was sitting next to him up in the box when I was suspended (last year)," Showalter recalled. "There's a lot of fire that burns in this guy. You have to cover your ears."

But while the 30-minute, 13-question session left no doubt the team and organization are working as hard as they can to get better, fans may have to cover their eyes in the meantime.

Posted June 25, 2011