For this Bird fan, Hope Springs Eternal

Every year around this time, baseball fans begin evaluating their team’s chances for the fast-approaching regular season, and –in turn- predicting their place in the standings, a post-season appearance, or, even a championship! Here in Baltimore, most fans are far more pessimistic than otherwise, and for good reason. That’s what 14 straight losing seasons does.

But this fan, for one, predicts that things will start to turn for the better in 2012, and that’s because pitching is the name of this game, and I am really starting to believe that this years’ Birds might be a whole lot better than anyone is anticipating. And because history, every once in a while, repeats itself.

Here’s what I’m getting to: in 1960, the team’s 7th year in the league, our Orioles enjoyed their first-ever pennant chase. They went into mid-September challenging the Yankees for first place supremacy, and even swept three from New York here in Baltimore before folding down the stretch. They were able to make that run primarily on the good arms of a very young pitching staff, nicknamed the “Baby Birds.”

Guided by veterans like Skinny Brown and Hoyt Wilhelm, five young pitchers, Steve Barber, Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher, Milt Pappas and Jerry Walker propelled Baltimore to 89 wins, a second place finish, and a league-low 3.54 ERA. Their average age…21!

Which brings me to my optimism over this year’s installment of Baltimore Orioles baseball. Over this past off-season, new GM Dan Duquette’s top priority was loading up with enough arms to give manager Buck Showalter some real competition for starting sports and relievers. From where I’m watching, the plan looks like it just might be working. Through Monday night’s 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh, Showalter’s hurlers have held the opposition to an ERA just under 3.00, the fourth lowest in MLB this spring!

Can this carry over into the regular season and all those games against American League East opponents? Certainly not, but I think this year’s pitching corps is markedly better than the 2011 group, and if pitching is the name of the game, then might we not be in for a pleasant surprise?

I think so. Just call me mister optimistic. Let’s revisit this in September and see if history, indeed, can repeat itself!

Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.