For a long time, the resounding notion amongst some in the area was that fans really don't care much about Orioles baseball anymore because of the losing for the past twelve years.
Despite the dwindling attendance at Oriole Park for several years and the bashing of the organization -- deserved or not -- has received, fans do very much care about Baltimore baseball based on the turnout at today's Fan Fest. Although were in the dead of winter here, people were happy to see some reminder of baseball in the region along with the black and orange again.
More than 12,000 fans showed up at the annual event this year. This time around, FanFest was held at the Baltimore Convention Center rather than at Camden Yards, and was held today rather than in April because the Orioles open the season at Tampa. It didn't make much sense to fly home to hold the event in April and then fly back to Florida.
The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck predicted that a player would be introduced to Baltimore this weekend in a blog post, and he was right on the money. Fans at the event found out through the word of mouth, texts, and emails that Miguel Tejada would be coming back on a one-year deal to Baltimore for a second tour of duty.
Based on talking with other bloggers towards the end of the day, the reaction ranged from happiness such as "yes, the Orioles did well and it was a good signing", to indignation, plus the sounds of "why again -- he's old?", plus, "we should bring the young guys up and let them have at-bats".
In about two-and-half months, we'll see if Tejada can deliver and help the team improve, or if his signing was another in a long line of many with the Orioles over the current losing spell that will prove to be ill-advised. The million dollar is question is aside from Miguel being able to still produce -- which he probably will in one shape or another -- can he even play third?
As well, the Orioles trotted out their new additions -- Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Millwood and Garrett Atkins.
For fans, Saturday was fun as they got to see pretty much the entire team in one fashion or another with the various forums that took place on the main stage, during autograph sessions and demonstrations on a practice field. As well, team executives, the press, old-school Orioles participated in Q&A sessions with those in attendance, plus the were a multitude of vendors, memorabilia sales, and games set up for kids at the convention center.
It was great to see the players relaxed and in street clothes for the event. Considering it is off-season, many of the players didn't feel the need to abide the team's grooming policy and quite a few really looked different than the norm. Two men in particular stood out -- Luke Scott and Nick Markakis.
Seriously, Luke Scott looked like he was trying out for Hugh Jackman's role in 'X-Men", while Markakis sported a beard (um, looked really looked like a grifter or perhaps a rabbi...)
Aside from everything else listed above, the Orioles also included a select group of bloggers to participate during Fan Fest as well. My tag team partner James represented the blog, and the panel included Stacey Long from Camden Chat, Neal from the Loss Column, Chris from Baltimore Sports and Life, and last, but not least, Kate Wheeler along with Steve Melewski from MASN Sports (who was the moderator).
The Baltimore Orioles should be given a credit for realizing that the online community can play a vital part in the dissemination of news, commentary and analysis. They extended their hand out to bloggers to be part of things, and I'm sure everyone who took the in the event was greatly appreciative.
This year's Fan Fest surely did create a lot of buzz along with tons of excitement. With the New Year, fans seemed to forgive the past -- if only for Saturday -- and look toward the future.
Whether or not it's bright or a glided one, we'll find out in October when the 2010 season ends.