It’s not quite as dramatic as it was to enter Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” on your black-and-white TV sets back in the ’60s, but the Mike Elias-led Baltimore Orioles have entered into a different time and space than any other Orioles team in the proud 65-year history of the franchise.
For lack of a better term, I’ll call it the “Time Between,” which is a period of indeterminate length and is obviously the time between being at the bottom and getting back to contention.
What is so strange about such a chapter in the life of the franchise is the usual yardsticks to measure progress don’t really apply in any meaningful way. The wins on the field are as close to meaningless as you can get. Don’t get me wrong, while others may call it “tanking,” that term is useless in a true and honest discussion of how and why a team embarks upon a rebuild.
All we know is that in business terms, this is equivalent to a customer walking into a place where chaotic remodeling is going on and being politely asked to “excuse our dust.” In Baltimore terms, maybe the term should read: “Excuse our water main break on Pratt and Howard Streets.”
But seriously, this season is exceedingly tough on this generation’s fans. Their loyalties can best be summed up with a football reference from a sports business friend of mine, who called last year’s drafting of Lamar Jackson “giving Ravens fans their five-hour energy drink.” The smart and long-term team loyalist who’ll be there through thick and thin understands the wisdom of the Orioles’ process but suffer mightily night in and night out watching baseball that can at times seem meaningless.
But rest assured, Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal have the bonafides. They’ve been through this a time or two before and understand the process far better than their fan base.
They understand that so much of what’s done these first couple of summers in Baltimore will appear like they’re just killing time. They’ll present the fan base with a Dan Straily story, a DJ Stewart story, a Keon Broxton story and now even a Chance Sisco story. The common thread of these stories is that they tend to last 1-2 months and offer some hope, both false and otherwise.
But all while these different threads play out, there’s another amateur draft, an international signing period, a trade deadline and then the offseason free-agency period. All the while, Elias and Mejdal will continue filling their stockings with more and more young talent until it nearly bursts at the seam.
Gone will be the likes of Andrew Cashner, Mychal Givens and maybe Jonathan Villar, all turned into less expensive and controllable talent that raises the bar of the entire organization.
I like Elias and Mejdal in the brief exchanges I’ve had with them and from reading Ben Reiter’s book, “Astroball,” which detailed how both of them — albeit working under GM Jeff Luhnow — rebuilt the Houston Astros from very similar straits that the current Orioles currently reside. They made them good enough to win the 2017 World Series and become seemingly forever contenders.
There has been much conjecture about whether or not the club would trade Trey Mancini. Let’s make one thing clear: Elias and Mejdal would consider trading their mothers and wives if the right deal came along. These two are cold-blooded killers, but the key word there was “right,” and I just don’t think they’ll get the right deal for Mancini this summer.
The message I have for Orioles fans: Don’t turn your back on the process. Go to enough games to support the rebuild. That’s not a threat; it’s just a common-sense investment in your team and your city. Enjoy the park, even if they continue to play “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” in the seventh inning. Try your best to see the big, big picture because I can almost assuredly guarantee you that better days are ahead.
August and September this year and probably April, May and June of next season may be worst of it to watch unless we all turn the screw in our brains to realize what is important during the “Time Between.” If you blink, it’ll be over. The results of a rebuild this magnificent will deliver us not to the good old days, but rather a new and wondrous place back to a time of Orioles relevance.
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