The Orioles are two weeks into spring training and the newness of it all still hasn’t worn off.
It probably won’t for a while.
During the eight springs of the Buck Showalter era, the back fields were a beehive of drills, instruction and little else. The budding Brandon Hyde era has a musical soundtrack, with outdoor speakers blaring the favorites of a new generation of Orioles players and a vibe that seems to project that business and pleasure are not mutually exclusive.
Of course, this is the honeymoon period for everyone at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, where Grapefruit League play just got underway Saturday with a 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. Hyde wants everybody to get comfortable. He recognizes there are more than 70 players and coaches in camp and most of them are just getting to know each other.
He wouldn’t think of saying his way is best, because his way is still very much in development. He’s actually one of the newest of the new kids on the block and he’s drawing heavily on the time he spent with free-spirited manager Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs.
“I don’t know if I’m reinventing any style or anything like that,” Hyde said. “I was just in a really winning environment for a while now and I know what that feels like.”
The Orioles organization is a couple of years removed from that, so — at the moment — the more important component of this rebuilding project is the fresh start. Nobody is strutting around saying how much better this camp has been than those of the past eight years. Showalter brought the Orioles more success than they had experienced in the 13 seasons before his arrival.
He ran a tight camp and that worked just fine until it didn’t. Hyde is drawing heavily on the feel that Maddon and his coaching staff have created in Chicago, where the Cubs have reached the playoffs in each of Maddon’s four seasons and won the World Series in 2016 for the first time since 1908.
“I think the biggest thing is wanting to build a new culture, a new identity for the Orioles and I think that, so far, it’s been great,’’ veteran pitcher Andrew Cashner said. “I think Brandon’s brought a lot of great ideas from other places he’s been and I think just our coaching staff as a whole is one of the best coaching staffs that I’ve had.”
Hyde is all about the interpersonal relationships that are forming in the clubhouse and, hopefully, will thrive outside it. Maybe that emphasis will be more evident this spring because of the huge number of young players — many of whom came over from other organizations during the flurry of teardown trades in July.
“That’s something that I just came from and we had,’’ Hyde said. “We had a group of people who enjoyed each other’s company and I think that’s something that translates on the field when you’re caring about the guy next to you and you’re caring about their performance and pulling for each other. That’s huge.”
The players seem to appreciate that, and those that thrived during the Showalter era can embrace this new reality without feeling like it is some kind of betrayal of the old guard.
“I think it’s just because it’s a new regime,’’ outfielder Trey Mancini said. “Everything that Buck and Dan [Duquette] did in Baltimore … I mean they turned the franchise around and I’m forever grateful for them. Because of them, I got to be a major league player, so I’m forever grateful for that and they did a great job here.
“With all that said, just having a new front office and new staff and a lot of young players, with all that comes a lot of excitement. I’ve been saying the whole time, it’s just been a great feel here. Everybody’s bought in.”
Pitcher Miguel Castro, speaking through interpreter Ramón Alarcón, said it’s not about the process being better or worse than before.
“I would say it’s just different,’’ Castro said. “It’s the same baseball. Personnel changes and players change, but it’s the same sport. I would just say it’s different.”
Other than the average age of the camp roster and an almost entirely new major league coaching staff, nothing looks dramatically different about this year’s camp. The players still run through many of the same drills that big league teams have been doing for decades. There are a few new gadgets arrayed around the practice fields and bullpen mounds which reflect the new-age emphasis on analytics that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias brought with him from the Houston Astros organization.
Elias and Hyde are in the process of engineering a major organizational transformation, which is what you do after the worst season in the 65-year history of the franchise. Everyone knows that and would be crazy not to want to get where the new regime wants to take the team.
If that is reflected in a more relaxed feel around the facility, that’s a short-term mission accomplished, but Hyde might quibble with the semantics.
“I wouldn’t say relaxed atmosphere,’’ Hyde said. “I’d say positive atmosphere where players are looking to get better every single day without making them stay on the field too long where injuries can happen or resentment can happen, but getting a positive work day in. I think players are going to perform better and improve quicker in a good place to work.”