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On an Opening Day first somber then hopeful, the Orioles turn the page

On an Opening Day first somber then hopeful, the Orioles turn the page

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

BALTIMORE — The reigning American League East champion Baltimore Orioles began their most promising season in a generation on a chilly afternoon at Camden Yards on Thursday. Their steady, stunning transformation from rebuilding embarrassment to fully furnished juggernaut is complete, so much so that they started trading from their once-untouchable stores of young talent to get the ace they needed this winter. That ace, Corbin Burnes, made his first start as an Oriole against the Los Angeles Angels in the opener. He struck out 11 batters. He was exactly what Baltimore hoped he would be.

But on the list of meaningful things that happened Thursday at Camden Yards, baseball — even the dominant baseball the Orioles played in an 11-3 win — ranked lower than anyone might have expected. Opening Day was the first sporting event in Baltimore since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning. And in a strange juxtaposition, it also happened to be the first full day of David Rubenstein’s tenure as the franchise’s controlling owner — a tenure he has touted on social media as “The Next Chapter” of Orioles history. Thursday was the club’s first Opening Day with an owner not named Angelos in 30 years.

Rubenstein was approved to succeed John Angelos as controlling owner Wednesday around noon. In the intervening hours, he met with players and staff (among others), many of whom expressed unbridled optimism about what his stewardship might bring.

“That was really cool to be able to meet the new owner, and then he got sworn in, I guess?” said infielder Gunnar Henderson, who laughed when he realized he might not have used the appropriate term. “Obviously, you want the leadership to be wanting the leadership as much as we do, and it seems like he’s got that same mind frame.”

Henderson and his teammates looked like a team ready for title ambitions Thursday. Everyone in Baltimore’s starting lineup reached base at least once. Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins homered. Adley Rutschman had two hits, scored two runs and drove in three.

But in a news conference held a few hours before the game, Rubenstein seemed as determined to communicate his vision for the Orioles franchise as the center of a wider Baltimore revitalization as he did an on-field winner. And he also seemed determined to offer a clean if polite break with the previous ownership regime. Screens near the side of the stage featured pictures of Orioles players along with the words “The Next Chapter,” the same title of a video Rubenstein tweeted after his sale was approved. Shortly before the pregame ceremonies started, a countdown appeared on the Camden Yards scoreboard: “The Next Chapter Begins in …”

The news conference started with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D), not Rubenstein, who offered a reminder that just a year ago, the team had mere months left on its Camden Yards lease, living from short-term deal to short-term deal before it finally agreed to a 30-year lease.

“The Orioles are the soul of Baltimore,” Moore said, “and knowing that, the city is going to need you now more than ever.”

He ended his remarks with a promise that someday Baltimore will be holding a “reopening day” on which the city will celebrate the rebuilding of the Key Bridge. Moore’s presence — and the questions he fielded later about the status of investigations into the incident — served as reminders of the complicated moment in which Rubenstein’s tenure is beginning.

But when Rubenstein took his turn, he emphasized his connection to a city that has placed its baseball hopes in his hands.

“I grew up here. I was educated here. My parents grew up here. They were educated here. My parents are buried here, and I will be buried here,” Rubenstein said in a news conference held a few hours before the game. “I really want to say to Baltimore, this is a new day, a new chapter.”

Part of that chapter, it seems, will be the reemergence of a familiar character. Hall of Famer and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., who had been around but not involved with the team in the last years of the Angelos family’s ownership, was present as one of the many members of Rubenstein’s larger investment group. But more importantly, he was present as an official part of the franchise again, speaking at the news conference, catching the ceremonial first pitch.

“It feels really good to be back in a formal capacity,” Ripken said. “… Many times in life, it’s a matter of timing, and the timing feels really good right now to come back.”

At times in the past few months and years, the timing for this franchise has felt almost scripted. From the moment Rutschman, the first star of the post-rebuild generation, debuted in May 2022, Baltimore became a contender. When a few other future stars such as Henderson joined him in 2023, the team won 101 games and the AL East.

This offseason, news broke that Rubenstein had an agreement in place to become controlling owner of the team. The next day, General Manager Mike Elias swung a deal for Burnes, the piece the Orioles didn’t have and desperately needed as they were swept out of last year’s postseason.

Four days before MLB owners were set to vote on Rubenstein’s bid for the team, its longtime owner, Peter Angelos, died at 94, the end of one era coming just before the start of another. And on Thursday, hours after Rubenstein took control, as Baltimore found itself in mourning, the Orioles started playing baseball again. That, they say, is what Opening Day is all about.

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