Rejoice, rejoice, Spring is here! Sure the calendar owners out there will scoff and claim March 20th is the first day of Spring. Well, fie, I say. Spring is more than just some day on a calendar made of science. And the weather channel Freak-Os will point to the roughly 1,400 feet of snow that fell in the last fortnight and swear winter is still outside their windows. Well I'm hear to tell you those folk are wrong, and I only have to point as far as Sarasota, Florida, where the Orioles recently began Spring Training. See? It's got Spring right there in the first word. Yeah, I know I've already said don't get your hopes up: The O's haven't done much to get better this off-season, while the Red Sox and Rays look to be just as tough as last year and the Yankees spent enough money on free agents ($471 million and counting) to go in halvesies on a stealth fucking bomber and still have enough left over to pay all of the Orioles salaries, but I think this is gonna be a good year.
Why? You might ask, and a fine question you'd be asking. Partly because it looks like all this snow is melting and I'll finally be able to bring my chair back in the house (with my recliner saving my parking space, I've been forced to keep my car in the living room fore to have a place to sit) and partly because it's spring and that's what fans are supposed to do, but mostly it's Nick Markakis' new beard. Hokey Smokes have you seen him? He looks like a waiter at the Golden West. Between his Under Armour headband cutting his Grecian disco-fro and wooly beard wild enough to hide a sasquatch, Markakis looks like he's just been cast in a Wes Anderson movie. That's the kind of hair that wins championships. You could hide a half-ton of Orioles magic in there, easy. Seriously, you grow face fur like that and you don't win a championship, you look pretty silly. But when you win? Man, that's the quaff of destiny, baby!
I'm not going to lie to you, a big part of my optimism comes from desperation. I tried getting excited about the Olympics, but then I realized they were the Winter Olympics, where if you can do any two seemingly unrelated activities passably, you can win a gold (Shoot while skiing? Sure. Skate while sweeping? Why not. What's next, Winter Olympics? Cake decorating while preparing your taxes? How's about fish gutting while complaining about the government? They seem just as legit.) The Winter Olympics only have, like, five real sports and since most of those require snow and they held these games in the Russian equivalent of Ocean City, there hasn't even been much snow, so I've given up. But more than that, I'm desperate to believe these last two amazing years have been more than a flash in the pan. Come on! I suffered through more losing than I could have ever imagined, this can't be just a tease!
So I'm looking at the bright side. Yeah, they didn't make big news. Their highest profile signing this year has been Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon, and while I lobbied in this column for the Birds to go out and get him, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you I'd ever heard of him before January. Suk-min Yoon could walk into this room right now, tranquilize me, and glue a Nick Markakis wig and beard to my sleeping head, and the closest I could get to identifying the culprit would be, "Officer, it was not Jim Palmer." But so what? The smart buzz says the Orioles will be worse this year. Well that buzz hasn't caught a whiff of Nick Markakis' follicles. There's some damn good reasons to be excited.
If you line them up by position, there isn't a team in the American League that matches up better than the O's at first, short, third, catcher, and center field. They sent five players to the All-Star game last year and they're all coming back. The thing this club needs more than anything is a top-of-the-rotation starter. Towering 6'5" starter Chris Tillman, who was one of those All-Stars, served notice to his potential in 2012, going 9-3. Last season, he won 16 games with a 3.71 ERA, and struck out 179 batters with a fastball that sometimes sees the high 90s. I hate to say this, but those are top-of-the-rotation numbers. You can always get better, like you could clone Mike Mussina and give him some of Roger Clemens' horse steroids, but Tillman is good and going to get better. Look for him to win at least 18 this year and maybe end up the Orioles' first 20-game winner since Mike "I Played So Long Ago I Invented Cheese" Boddicker. Then there are the young arms. If we can't find horse steroids for our Mussina clone, I'm thinking some of Kevin Gausman's blood would do the trick. This kid is unreal. Watching him pitch in Single A was like watching Bruce Lee at the Tri-County Karate Contest (and I'm talking about a LIVING Bruce Lee). A man among boys. He should be ready to contribute this year. Then there's Dylan Bundy. Before he hurt his arm, he was considered one of the top five prospects in baseball. Well he's coming back from Tommy John surgery and it used to be if a guy could lift his arm after that surgery you considered it a success. Now guys come back with 5 more mph on their fastball and the ability to punch down walls. He could be better post-surgery.
Maybe all of that is wishful thinking, but hey, that's what Spring is for! I still believe I'm going to lose that 30 pounds I swore off on New Year's (and the 10 that I've added since), if I can believe in that, what's the problem with an O's win? But really, it all comes back to Nick Markakis' face. The guy is one of the best-looking dudes in Baltimore (after me and my editor-speaking of which, can I have a raise, you handsome devil?). If he's willing to grow what looks like an entire family of chinchillas on his head, he must know something.
Catch Jim Meyer telling jokes at Zissimos on Saturday the 22nd. firstname.lastname@example.org.