Mike Elias was impressed.
The new Baltimore Orioles general manager was quick to note the line of fans that streamed around the corner as they waited to get into the annual FanFest, underscoring the local fervor for the team.
The franchise lost 115 games in 2018, but that has not dampened the city’s optimism.
"We're excited to see all the Orioles fans here today to support Mike Elias and [manager] Brandon Hyde," said Doug Heidrick of Baltimore. "We look forward to the upcoming season to see how the returning players gel with the younger players who will hopefully be part of the rebuild and future success in Baltimore."
Indeed, 8,000 people crammed into the Baltimore Convention Center to meet with dozens of players, get autographs and mingle with fellow fans.
Elias and Hyde are fully focused on developing the right mix of players for long-term success, as opposed to being overly concerned about wins and losses this season. They plan to chip away at the days of 100-loss seasons and eventually compete for World Series titles.
"I have a very clear goal for this season," Elias said. "I want to see the overall level of talent up and down this organization go up. I want to see it move in the right direction. On top of that, I have a lot of goals behind the scenes with what we’re doing in terms of improving the functionality and overall infrastructure of every department of baseball operations. In terms of what we see on the field, we want to see the overall talent go up."
The immediate commitment to scouting overseas and analytics -- areas where the Orioles have lagged behind other clubs in recent years -- should make a huge difference with the direction of the franchise. Fans are impressed by this new focus of the team.
"You know things are changing when the manager is explaining what analytics are, as Brandon Hyde did in response to a question from the audience,” said Derek Arnold of Pasadena. "Another sign of change is that the biggest names in the autograph sessions were either former players, or guys who've yet to so much as sniff an All-Star Game.
"Still, judging by the size of the line wrapping around the convention center this morning, it looks like much of Birdland has fully bought in and is ready to go through the growing pains with Elias, Hyde and crew," he said.
Other fans clamored for more transparency with the franchise. One man said the previous regime was "wishy-washy" when it came to providing a clear direction of the franchise or the potential signing of players.
While Elias said the franchise is forbidden to comment on the potential interest in free agents, he hopes the fans will have a clear perspective on where the Orioles are heading.
"How about if I'm not wishy-washy, but I’m still indirect? Will that work?" Elias joked.
The players certainly would love to see center fielder Adam Jones return.
"Adam is a leader in this organization," reliever Mychal Givens said. "He's a great role model for kids and the community. If Adam is not here, it's going to be a big loss."
Most of the fans are on board with the team trading some wins to build for the future. The wins and losses in 2019 will be incidental if the team can battle for a World Series within the next several years.
"Yeah, I'm hoping that we really turn things around and start building up,” said Kaitlyn Lindsey, a Baltimore resident who moved from Georgia. "I mean, you can't win 'em all, so you know, can't be a fair-weather fan. Love the team. Love the players and, you know, gotta stand by them 'cause the fans help 'em win."
Others hope the Orioles can surprise some teams this year and are looking to bounce back from last year’s 100-plus loss season.
"I've listened to the new manager and the coaching staff and I'm looking forward to a good year," said Carl Erkenbrecher of Elkton. "I think it's gonna be a good one, hopefully. Young guys, they're gonna have to learn. They're the most aggressive, they're more anxious to get things going in their career so I think it's gonna be good. We're looking forward to it."
The Orioles will field a much younger team this season. However, many fans are clamoring for the team to resign Jones. Elias said it was not a “dead-issue” with resigning the veteran outfielder.
Regardless of what players are on the field, Hyde promised the Orioles will run out every ground ball and show an all-around commitment to playing the game the right way.
"[Hustling] is just being a good teammate," Hyde said. "That’s taking pride in not only yourself, but your clubhouse and how you’re being perceived. Those are a lot of things we’re going to talk about. But it comes down to the core of being a good teammate."
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