WILLIAMSPORT —Even as a major league pitcher, the idea of family isn’t wasted on Darren O’Day.
He has learned that baseball teams are part of an extended family. And the family is the happiest when it is winning.
There are a lot of smiles to go around in Baltimore these days, especially with the Orioles in the thick of a pennant race and seemingly headed for no worse than the franchise’s best record and first playoff berth in 15 years.
The Orioles’ family is built on a common belief this year — that they can really be champions. It all made Saturday’s appearance at the second annual Nick Adenhart Memorial Baseball Camp at Williamsport High School all the more meaningful.
“Baseball is one big family,” said camp co-director Dave Warrenfeltz to the approximately 70 campers and parents who turned out for the event. “Once you are a member of a baseball family, you are always part of a baseball family.”
The family theme was the cornerstone of the camp because Adenhart was part of it and remains at the heart of youth baseball in the area, even after his tragic death in a fatal car accident in California in April 9, 2009, just hours after pitching his finest Major League game for the Los Angeles Angels.
O’Day, who met and was befriended by Adenhart at the Angels minor league camp in 2007 before becoming teammates with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, applauded his good friend with text messages for his accomplishment, just hours before being devastated by Adenhart’s death.
O’Day, now an Orioles reliever, carries Adenhart’s memory with him every day and has dedicated his career to his friend’s memory.
“Every hat I wear, I put Nick’s initials and number in it,” said O’Day, who doffed his Orioles cap for proof, while admitting he has dedicated his career to his friend’s memory.
That kind of focus is one example of the driving force behind the Orioles this surprising season. Baltimore was picked to finish back in the pack once again as one of the have-nots in the American League. The team took exception to the prediction.
“It is a bunch of guys who take pride in what they do,” O’Day said. “The magazines came out and predicted us to finish back in the pack again. The sentiment was we knew we weren’t as bad as they all said. We took offense to it.”
The Orioles started the 2012 season strong, just like they have in a few seasons over the last 15, and many thought the run would end after the All-Star break. While some teams took the express elevator down in the standings, Baltimore has maintained its position and is challenging to rock baseball’s world as the season winds down.
The Orioles are guaranteed their first winning record since 1997 and entered Saturday night’s game with Boston just a game back of New York in the American League Eastern Division standings with a magic number of three to secure at least a wild card berth with five games remaining in the season.
O’Day said the Orioles were given that confidence from Day 1 of the season and it came straight from the top.
“There was no singular time when we started to feel like we could do it,” O’Day said. “It all came from the guys who constructed the team. They made us believe from the beginning.”
Shrewd moves by Baltimore’s brain trust — spearheaded by general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter — massaged the Orioles’ lineup. They have made upwards of 150 roster moves to keep the team in the hunt. In fact, only five players have been on the O’s roster all season.
“It’s never easy believing,” O’Day said. “But we have a manager who keeps reminding us that we are here with this team for a reason.”
O’Day has proved to be a vital piece of that success out of the bullpen. He is 7-1 with a 2.35 ERA. The submarine-style right-hander has shown a knack for getting out left-handed batters and has struck out 67, while walking just 14, in 65 innings over 66 appearances.
This ride with the Orioles has a similar feel to the one O’Day experienced while pitching with the Texas Rangers in 2010. O’Day was signed by Texas in 2009 after being released by the New York Mets and was the Rangers’ ground floor.
“This feels just like 2010 when Texas rose from obscurity to get to the World Series,” O’Day said. “They came out of nowhere to get to the top and didn’t start with good expectations.”
After he was released by the Rangers, the Orioles were instantly interested in O’Day and signed him in November.
“I certainly feel that’s part of the reason I’m here,” he said. “The first day I signed, I told them that I could see the 2010 team here. They had a lot of young, talented pitchers who had to learn how to win. I’d like to think that’s why I’m here to help them.”
The 2012 Orioles aren’t the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, but in their own right, Baltimore has become its own family.
“This is exciting. It’s overwhelming,” O’Day said. “There are exciting times here because the team hasn’t won in 15 years. It has a great fan base and we have to go out and bring them back.”