Much has been said and written about the change in Baltimore's baseball atmosphere from 2012 to the present. The increase in numbers and the sea of orange in the stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards are the most significant signs of change among fans. Some fans are still recovering from the effect of 14 straight losing seasons, but the attitude adjustment doesn't stop there.
It has also become visible among the team's former players, which may seem trivial to some, but the effect has not been lost on others, most significantly manager Buck Showalter. Maybe it's coincidental, maybe not, but it seems as if more former players have been making their way to the ballpark this year. Some of that, no doubt, can be attributed to the regular autograph sessions the club has been running the last few years, but that is only a partial explanation.
There is no denying the enthusiasm is greater on both sides -- with the players as well as the fans. If it's a lot easier to be an O's fan these days, the same can also be said of those who used to wear the uniform and seem to relish any notion that the current edition is remindful of some teams from the past.
Former players are aware of the change in the club's culture, which is generally credited to Showalter, who in turn emphasizes the team's history at the slightest hint of an opportunity, and that doesn't seem to be lost on former players.
"Buck is very much aware of our history, and has been very supportive in reconnecting with former players, ones outside the area as well as the local guys," said Bill Stetka, director of Orioles alumni. "Buck wants [former players] to feel welcome. He tells me: 'Bring them down [to the clubhouse]. We want to see them.' "
The impact has been felt both ways. The current team is no longer saddled with the warts of 14 straight losing seasons. Right fielder Nick Markakis, center fielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters and starting pitcher Chris Tillman remember how it was when they came to the major leagues, but are now known better as the core of the leadership group in the clubhouse.
Former Oriole Frank Robinson noted the connection between the past and the present while addressing the team during spring training. He admitted it was a lot easier to be associated with the Orioles these days, and said his bright orange shirt was one he was wearing a lot more often.
Similar thoughts came up again in June, when former Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke, who has a unique connection between the past and present, was a visitor at OPACY. When he was told that a lot of those with connections to his era, including Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, had likened the current team to those of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Roenicke thought about it for a moment, and then rewound his memory bank.
"You know, in all the years I played here, we only had one bad guy come through the clubhouse," said Roenicke, the right-handed half of the Orioles' fabled left-field platoon system, which also included John Lowenstein.
There was no need or desire to offer or press for more information about that player, who -- Roenicke quickly added -- wore an Orioles uniform for less than a year.
"There was one other guy who didn't fit in at first," Roenicke said, "but [one of the veterans] got him straightened out in a hurry, and he fit into the program."
"The program," of course, really isn't a program. It's just a case of assembling the parts and having them fit together. It doesn't always happen that way, but when it does, as the Orioles' veterans from the glory years can attest, it cultivates a special feeling. Roenicke was in Baltimore for eight years, and it wasn't always cookies and ice cream, even though the Orioles went to the World Series twice, losing to the Pirates in 1979 (a bitter defeat after being up, three games to one) and beating the Phillies during a five-game series in 1983.
There were disappointments along the way, plus the slow erosion that followed the championship season of 1983, but there was a togetherness about that team that endures to this day. After the pennant run in 1979, there was the disappointment of a 100-win season (1980) being good enough for second place when second place wasn't good enough.
There was the disappointment of a promising season being interrupted by a work stoppage (1981), and another year (1982) when a late-season drive fell one game short on the final day of the season. And then came the inevitable sign of decay (1984), when an 85-win season was considered the ultimate disappointment, even though, in fact, it signaled the end of a glorious run.
Roenicke said it had been a magical run, which, in many ways, continues to this day. Think about it: Eight years, and he can think of only one player who didn't fit the program. I've known some people who can't say that about those who have crossed their paths in the last eight hours, let alone eight years.
Still, you can forgive Roenicke if there's a bittersweet tinge as he enjoys the Orioles' newfound success. On the one hand, you know how much he must have appreciated a comment Showalter made July 7 after the Orioles' six-run explosion in the 11th inning produced an 8-2 win against the Nationals.
"You know what I'm most proud of?" asked Showalter, who rarely misses an opportunity to prop up one of his players. "With two outs in the 11th inning and the score 8-2, our All-Star center fielder (Adam Jones) almost beat out an infield ground ball."
The fact that Jones is as much a leader as he is a player surely resonates in a special way with Roenicke, but in the overall scheme of things, it became the icing on the cake. When he first saw Jones as a teenager, Roenicke saw a player with unique talent, a five-tool player with potential star quality. Roenicke was an Orioles scout in 2007, charged with covering all West Coast teams and their top minor league affiliates.
As such, he was heavily involved in the reports leading to the trade with the Mariners that brought Jones to Baltimore, which, naturally, is a source of pride.
"All he has to do is learn pitch recognition," Roenicke said shortly after the deal was made. "If he does that, the sky is the limit. He has all the tools."
Jones is now a four-time All-Star, and there are many who still offer the same scouting report, evidently meaning the level beyond All-Star.
The flip side of that scenario is that when the Orioles' organization completed its overhaul shortly after Showalter was named manager in 2010, Roenicke got caught in the shuffle. Between the time that former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail left and current executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette came aboard, there were also changes made in the scouting department, and Roenicke apparently slipped through the cracks. In the scouting profession, it seems as if people don't actually get fired -- their contracts just aren't renewed, which is what happened to Roenicke.
Too often, scouts work under the radar. Most of their work goes unrecognized. It's part of the job description. If Erik Bedard hadn't had a career year in 2007, and the Mariners hadn't needed one more pitcher to put them over the top, chances are that few of us would have known that Roenicke was ever anything other than a player for the Baltimore Orioles. Now, we know he has a World Series championship ring as a former player, and a stake in the future as a former scout -- and a nice résumé.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.