BEL AIR, Md. — General manager Mike Elias had been asked this question by members of the media in various settings — press conferences, radio interviews and more — since last October. But on Thursday night, it was posed to him inside the Bel Air High School auditorium in front of a crowd of diehard Orioles fans.
After an impressive showing in 2022, what can be expected of the team in ‘23?
“I hope we make the playoffs. That’s our goal,” Elias said.
That response elicited one of the loudest ovations of the night from those at the opening event of this year’s Birdland Caravan. Players and staff members will be traveling around Maryland through Sunday to interact with fans at various venues, and it began with Thursday’s fan rally.
For one hour, Elias and manager Brandon Hyde mostly discussed Baltimore’s offseason and the upcoming year. They answered queries from fans during a Q&A session. They played several games on stage — such as “Who’s most likely to?” between themselves — and then went down into the seating area to help guide two participants who competed in a relay race to put on a full baseball uniform the fastest.
The Birdland Caravan debuted in 2020 to rave reviews from communities around the state because of the opportunities it presented for fans to get up close to members of the Orioles in intimate settings. But the event took a two-year hiatus in ‘21 and ‘22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s lockout.
The fans in Bel Air were clearly eager to see Elias and Hyde, as many lined up in the frigid conditions well before the doors opened.
“There’s always a neverending love of Orioles baseball in our region, but clearly there was a point last season where the light switch went on,” said broadcaster Brett Hollander, who hosted Thursday night’s fan rally. “It was very obvious, just being around town, that fans were super excited about the direction of this team. An event like this, you realize that … Just how much people care throughout our region.”
The biggest draw of the opening event was the opportunity for fans, young and old alike, to line up in front of the auditorium stage, grab the microphone and ask Elias and Hyde anything.
One young fan wanted to know where they’d rank Camden Yards hot dogs among all ballparks. Another wanted some catching tips to try to become the next Adley Rutschman.
But others brought more hard-hitting questions.
After signing Kyle Gibson and trading for Cole Irvin this offseason, could the Orioles still add another starting pitcher in the near future?
“We’re still working on stuff I can’t predict,” Elias said. “There’s not a ton of free agents left, especially premier ones, but it’s very possible that we sign another Major League free agent before we head to camp. We also might do moves during camp. In terms of the starting rotation, I think that the thing that we feel best about with this group is the numbers, the depth, the strength in numbers. … But we’ll keep monitoring opportunities out there for the next two weeks.
Is right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the No. 7 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, going to be part of that rotation at the beginning of the 2023 season?
“It’ll be really exciting, I think, for us to get to see him out there in Sarasota,” Elias said. “I’m really pulling for him to be in the rotation when we break camp.”
Could Rodriguez even be the starter on Opening Day at Fenway Park on March 30?
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Hyde said. “It’s nice this year, we’ve got a lot of guys to choose from.”
The Orioles will have about six weeks in Spring Training to figure that out and to make other important roster decisions. Before heading south, though, they’ll continue to take this weekend to meet and greet the people who will pack the stands at Camden Yards later this year.
After Thursday night, it’s already evident that the fans are ready for baseball to be back in Baltimore.
“The energy in the park last year, and then just the excitement around town, is palpable,” Hollander said. “It’s hard not to get extra excited about the ‘23 season.”