At the Yard - Opening Day

Paul: The anticipation for Opening Day is unlike anything else all season long. There are more exciting games throughout the course of the season. Some games are more fun or more memorable. But no single game has that anticipation of Opening Day and I don’t think playoff games or anything else will change that. What other game has a six month build to the first pitch?

Tim: I had a work meeting on Friday morning and went dressed in my Orioles gear without a care in the world because it was Opening Day. Being downtown early on Friday, there was definitely some buzz, especially since it was an opening day Friday game and the forecast showed very nice weather.

Paul: As mentioned on Friday, I went out for a morning run downtown, partly to check out how everything was setting up for Opening Day, only to return home and find myself locked out of the apartment. Tim was in a morning meeting and the leasing office was closed, which meant I had to wait for him to get back and let me in. Lucky for everyone involved, I am the master of killing time. I could stare at a blank wall for three hours and be fine. Once I found a computer in the building’s Business Center that I could use, it was no contest - I took down that 2 1/2 hour wait with no problem.

Tim: I raced home, using red stop lights as four way stop signs and made it from the MTA building on 6 St. Paul St. home in 10 minutes.

Paul: Our dad and Tim’s old boss/friend Ray arrived and we headed to Joe Squared for a pre-game meal. Ray, born and raised in Baltimore, is somehow a Red Sox fan. My dad asks him at lunch how that happened and Ray relays a story about how he was an O’s fan up until 1997 or so, felt sorry for the Red Sox with their struggles, was turned off by Angelos, and switched sides. He claims he can’t be a bandwagon fan if he became a fan when the team was “down”. That’s all well and good, but I am still not buying it. No excuse for a native Baltimorean to be a Red Sox fan. Ray is a good guy, but being a Red Sox fan is a a pretty major personality flaw.

Tim: In the past, we haven’t dined before the game on Opening Day but Joe Squared was fantastic as usual. They just don’t win by default - they earned it.

Paul: We make the walk down to Camden Yards. Even walking at a relatively moderate pace, we still make it to the Yard in a little over 30 minutes, which isn’t bad at all. Eutaw Street beyond the stadium gates is packed as expected. The setup at Gino’s is cool, but the place is a mob scene. The batter’s eye bar seating is also packed and the same was true on Saturday night as well. As much I want to try all the new features out, I’d rather not have to wait in 15 minute lines or wade through a throng of casual baseball game-goers to do so. We’ll get to them eventually.

Tim: The first thing I notice is the upper deck is about 10 degrees colder than places where the sun was getting through. With a consistent northerly wind, I would estimate we were at about 50 degrees the whole game. With Paul and my refusal to wear anything but shorts to baseball games, this caused a little pain but was worth it as usual.

Paul: Opening ceremonies are the usual fare. Markakis, Jones, and Wieters ll get the loudest ovations as you’d expect. There is a technical glitch early on with the playing of the “In Memoriam” video. Say what you want about Jim Hunter (especially in his goofy Opening Day tuxedo) but he is very good in these types of master of ceremonies roles.

Tim: I was slightly disappointed with the pop for Brian Matusz and Bob Andino. After Matusz’s stellar spring and Bob’s heroics the last two weeks of the year against the Red Sox. The core group of guys got great ovations and hopefully the majority of people who turn out for Opening Day this year stick around for the rest of the season.

Tim: Jake had a good first, with a little bit of spotty command but got a nice double play which elicited an excellent reaction from the crowd. In the bottom of the first, Nolan uncharacteristically swung at the first pitch and grounded out easily to first. JJ followed with a walk and then Nick literally set the fireworks off at OPACY with a two run home run. Nick’s home run will hopefully be a sign of things to come from him in the power department this year.

Paul: I have a good feeling about Nick this season. I am not talking about 2008-like numbers; just a solid .830 or so OPS, 40+ doubles, 15+ home runs, and a strong OPB. He is healthy and if he can get off to a decent start, when he usually struggles, those numbers are very attainable.

Tim: Jake’s third inning was the best inning of baseball I have seen him throw at the major league level. The first two batters both struck out, with JakeJake mixing an assortment of fastballs and off speed stuff to put the Twins completely off balance. He got an easy ground out to himself to end the inning. After a 20 plus pitch first inning, he did a fantastic job rebounding over the next two innings.

Paul: Someone - not sure if it was my my dad, Tim or Ray - makes a veiled comment about Arrieta immediately having a no-hitter. So of course, Span immediately singles to start off the 4th inning. Jake has his shakiest inning thus far, giving up two singles and recording the three outs on two line drives and one flyout.

Tim: I am usually very hot all of the time. Not today, which took me a little bit out of the game. Paul and I are usually as it into it as a fan can get - see 9/28/11. Bt since the crowd was enthusiastic and the O’s were fairly dominant, I was able to lay low for the most part and try to keep warm.

Paul: I head to the concourse to buy a beer for myself and Dad. I immediately notice that all of the stands on the outer part of the concourse appear to only be selling 24 ounce cans. I walk quite a while in the direction of left field, but every beer stand only has the larger cans. The normal concession stands aren’t really an option - I am not going to wait in those lines. Finally I give in and pay $20 for two cans. I didn’t do a thorough search the second night, but I didn’t see any bottles being sold then either. In the seats, it looks like vendors have 16 ounce cans for sale. Tim noted that he couldn’t find a bottle of Diet Coke anywhere either. Have they done away with all forms of bottles completely? Stayed tuned … (or not, it was just something odd I noticed).

Tim: I like bottles of diet coke over the fountain at OPACY because you never know if you are going to get a flat drink. I fear the end of bottle diet coke may be upon us this season. You will be missed.

Paul: Nick walks, Jones doubles, and Wieters grounds out to start the bottom of the 4th, scoring the O’s third runner of the game. Both pitchers settle down a bit and we breeze through the next inning and a half with no real activity to speak of. The quickened pace of the game is a welcomed sight at this point, as the wind in the upper reserve seats is really swooshing around. Combined with the shade, it feels a good five or six degrees cooler in our seats then it does outside of the stadium. Markakis continues his onslaught at the plate by tripling to drive in Hardy for the O’s fourth run of the game in the bottom half of the sixth.

Paul: Arrieta works around a leadoff walk in the 7th to get out of the inning unharmed. With his pitch count over 90, his day appears to be done and the fans give Jake a nice ovation as he leaves the field. Arrieta looked solid, if unspectacular, but I say that as a good thing. He was getting ahead, throwing strikes, and his offspeed stuff looked good. Arrieta has the best pure stuff of any of our starters. This was just one outing, but it goes to show that if he is getting ahead, he can keep the team in the game on any night. When he builds up some confidence and has a game or two where everything is clicking, he is going to be really fun to watch.

Tim: The great thing about Jake’s outing was that he clearly wasn’t at his best, which leaves plenty of room for improvement and growth this season. I’m very pleased with how he pitched and barring injury, this should be his break out year.

Paul: The singing of “America the Beautiful” commences. Leaving politics out of the equation, the singing of the song during the 7th inning stretch on Sundays and on special occasions like Opening Day is slightly annoying just because it cuts down the amount of time that “Country Boy” gets to play. The players are already out on the field before the song starts. By the time “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” ends (which probably can be skipped on days when “America the Beautiful” is played), Pavano is already two or three pitches into his warm ups. We don’t even get through the first refrain.

Paul: Matt Lindstrom is shaky in the 8th. I argue with Dad over Lindstrom’s relative importance to the team. I think he has to pitch well or else he is going to be one of the first heads on the chopping block when the need for a long reliever opens up, guys like Wada and Britton come off of the DL, ect. Dad argues that Lindstrom probably has more leeway than that and he has high hopes that he will be one of our top three relievers all season. We both agree that Gregg should be the first one to go in any bullpen roster crunch, but we also both know that is not happening. Needless to say, if Lindstrom does need to pitch well to maintain a spot long-term, this wasn’t the greatest start. Despite not allowing a run, he let up two singles and really struggled through his one inning of work.

Tim: Lindstrom looks okay but far from a guy with a career 3 ERA. I think he will be fine for us but after the first weekend of the season, Jason Hammel is clearly the return guy in the Guthrie deal.

Paul: The O’s strand a pair of runners in their half of the 8th and we head to the 9th with a possible shutout within reach. Buck makes the right bullpen call, bringing in Troy Patton to face Mauer and Morneau. It would have been nice for Lindstrom to pitch two full innings and save the bullpen, but it was the right call after his shaky 8th inning. Patton shows some nerves and issues a walk to Mauer on 4 pitches. He comes back nicely to strikeout Morneau, before letting up a two-run homerun to Orioles-killer Josh Willingham. Tim and I, almost in unison, say we both knew that was coming (of course it is easy to look smart with hindsight). This brings Jim Johnson into the game for the save. JJ is a bit shaky himself, allowing two baseruners before forcing a weak ground to the the real JJ for the final out of the game.

While a shutout would have been nice, it is ultimately meaningless at this stage in the season. I’ll take an Opening Day win, regardless of how it comes about, any year.

Tim: It got messy in the 9th but a win is a win. I was happy to see Patton come back and get Mourneau after obviously being nervous for his first appearance of 2012 against Mauer.

Paul: Out of our seats and on the concourse, it feels at least 5 degrees warmer, making for a much more pleasant walk back. On the walk back, we end up a couple of blocks west of where we need to go. I gain a small level of satisfaction by getting Tim to eventually admit we are a little off path. You have to understand, I have the worst sense of direction of anyone in the entire world. If I am given the option of taking Path A or Path B and only one of them is correct, I will choose the incorrect one 90% of the time. It’s odd defying. So when I occasionally have a moment of directional clarity, I make sure to enjoy it, even if is at Tim’s expense.

Tim: Jury is still out on the path, though I admit to at least being 75% wrong.

Paul: We make it back to the apartment. Ray splits to head home, while the rest of us head over to Mari Luna for dinner. The menu is your standard Mexican fare and the food quality was okay, nothing great. We discuss the positives and negatives of the Opening Day win (mostly positives) before heading back home to get ready for the remainder of Opening Day weekend.