Minor League baseball is an amoeba of sports entertainment. At different times, it can be mind-numbingly boring and ridiculously entertaining. A few of the men (boys in some cases) on the field have millions of dollars, many more can barely afford to keep a roof over their head. To get people into the seats, the minor league teams, usually located in small cities and towns, try to top one another by hosting absurd, headline-grabbing promotional nights. It really is something to behold.
While most of our attention will be aimed on Baltimore, don't forget that the Orioles have five minor league affiliates within reasonable driving distance of Charm City. If you could go for some baseball but want to save a little money on tickets, get a glimpse at some O's of the future and get stuck in a brutal post-game traffic jam on a one-lane country road, minor league baseball is your idea of a good summer night in 2016.
-The O's Triple-A squad has a whole new "creative identity"
They have ditched the blue and opted to go with a color scheme made up of "battleship gray, sea foam, tidal green, Orioles orange and black". Just black. Not "bodacious black" or "black abyss". Just black. That's cool, I guess.
On top of that, they allowed the fans to name the new mascot. After a few suggestions, they narrowed it down to five choices: Berkely, Seamore, Skipper, Sonar and Triton. I'm not sure why, but I feel like Seamore would have been hilarious. Instead, they went with Triton. The little seahorse guy carries around a trident all time so Triton makes sense. Sure.
By an overwhelming majority, TRITON has been voted as our new seahorse name! Thanks so much to those who voted! pic.twitter.com/zod8m8iG8f— Norfolk Tides (@NorfolkTides) January 22, 2016
As is always the case with the Triple-A guys, they are darn close to the big time. We know that potential impact players Christian Walker and Trey Mancini are likely to see a lot of time in Virginia along with familiar names like T.J. McFarland, Henry Urrutia, L.J. Hoes and a bunch of others. If you want to see the near future of Birdland, this is the place to stop by.
-These guys won a championship last year
While the Orioles slogged through an 81-81 season in 2015, the Baysox took home the Eastern League championship. This did happen with the help of some guys (Mancini, Mychal Givens) who will likely not be there in 2016, but a lot of those players on the championship team will return for more.
-Double-A baseball is a nice blend of tantalizing potential and realized ability
Triple-A has a lot of "just in case guys. They may be in their late-20's or early-30's. They won't make a difference, but could fill a bench role or make a spot start for the O's if they need it. Down at the A level, we don't even know if the guys are up to being professional athletes yet. But the Orioles like to make sure that their best and brightest compete at Bowie.
Look at Manny Machado. He didn't even play an inning in Norfolk. But he spent 109 games with the Baysox. Mychal Givens is another one who skipped right to Baltimore from Bowie. Remember Nick Markakis? Never played triple-A baseball. Caleb Joseph spent 428 games with the Baysox. He is a team legend. He only went to Norfolk for 44 games.
Now, things seem to be different when it comes to starting pitching. A lot of those guys stop at Norfolk, but do the Orioles even know what they are doing when it comes to starters? Probably not. So, I will ignore that fact because it does not help my point.
-Mark your calendars: Happy Gilmore Night - June 18
THE Shooter McGavin will be at Harry Grove Stadium. and the first 1,000 fans that night get a Shooter McGavin bobblehead. Those babies are gonna be going for at least 25 bucks on eBay the next day. You gotta get your hands on that.
-Another bobblehead you want: "Iron Manny" - May 21
If the pictures that have been released are the real deal (and there is no reason to think they aren't) this could be horrible and awesome all at the same time. It doesn't really look like Manny and it's not the most detailed bobble I have ever seen, but it's perfect for a minor league baseball giveaway. God, I hate it AND I love it.
"Iron Manny" Machado Bobblehead the Frederick Keys will be giving away to the first 1,000 fans on May 21st! pic.twitter.com/ECtmet1Rew— Stan (@BaItimoreStan) February 26, 2016
The ShoreBirds have added a nice-looking orange jersey to their on-field look for the first time since 2010.
-Perdue Stadium is due for a facelift
Not sure this is really a reason to head to Salisbury this summer or wait a year, but following the season, the Shoebirds home stadium will get some improvements. This will include a brand-new video board and some boardwalk-themed food options.
So, maybe you want to see what it looks like now? Then you can be amazed next April when it's all brand new? Yeah! Let's go with that.
-There could be some serious young star power
Catcher Jonah Heim (#14 O's prospect according to MLB.com) should be the everyday backstop. He is young for the level and has struggled with the bat. Last year's two top picks, D.J. Stewart (#7) and Ryan Mountcastle (#8) may spend a lot of time here. Stewart was bad with Aberdeen, but he will probably get a promotion anyway. Mountcastle did well at the lower levels and is due for a challenge. Hard-throwing southpaw Tanner Scott (#11) ended last summer with the Shorebirds but wasn't especially great. He should start the year with them and (hopefully) dominate the opposition this time around.
-The Iron Man
If you didn't know, Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. is pretty important to the works over at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium. He pretty much runs the show and will make appearances at a handful of games throughout the season. He will even stay and sign autographs following the game.
-See the young Birds first
Aberdeen's season doesn't kick-off until late June. It's pretty much set up so that if the O's select a college player in the draft that month, he can jump right into the action with the IronBirds. Last year it was a disappointment with the way Stewart played, but usually those guys dominate at this level. So, that's fun.