Amid the revelry of the Orioles’ celebratory clubhouse Thursday night, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias paused to ask an all-important question.
“I don’t know what happened in Triple-A,” he said. “Did they win?”
There was, in fairness, a lot going on. Elias could be excused for missing that, on the same night the Orioles clinched the American League East and announced a new 30-year stadium agreement to keep the team at Camden Yards, the Triple-A Norfolk Tides beat the Durham Bulls in a winner-take-all game to secure the International League championship.
A young Orioles team will finish atop the toughest division in baseball, and the organization’s top minor league affiliate won a title. Those achievements show how bright the club’s future is. The midgame lease announcement — clarified Friday as a non-binding “memorandum of understanding” between the team and state — means there soon will no longer be anything to distract from it.
As the Orioles enjoyed their best season in years — reaching 100 wins Thursday for the first time since 1980 — the uncertainty over their off-field future occasionally soured it. But Thursday, CEO and Chairman John Angelos and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore came together on an agreement that, once finalized, will keep the team in Baltimore for the next three decades, with the sides reiterating Friday a new lease will be in place before the current deal’s Dec. 31 expiration.
In February, Angelos issued hopes of a new deal serving as an “All-Star break gift,” with that benchmark passing unceremoniously in July. Instead, in the span of hours, the Orioles secured a division and made progress toward a long-term deal. Even with Friday’s revelations, all that matters is this: The best young team in baseball isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“We’re just getting started,” presumptive AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson said. “This is just the surface.”
The chances of Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez or any of the Orioles’ other young stars spending next season anywhere other than Baltimore were already low, but Thursday further ensured the club’s quest to repeat as AL East champs will come at Camden Yards. There remain questions about the team’s financial future — Angelos told The New York Times last month it would be difficult to keep all of its phenoms around long term — but thoughts of “Orioles” following the name of any other city are officially nearing an end.
“The Orioles are a big part of Baltimore,” Elias said. “A lot of bigger cities, their baseball team can come and go and life will go on, but this is a big part of our identity here as a city, so we’re looking at at least 30 years now. We’re going to be doing stuff to the park. We’ve got this team for a while. We’ve got more coming. It’s always going to be a tough road in our division, but we’re right in the thick of things for now and the foreseeable future.”
Perhaps the lease and whatever improvements that come with it, both to the ballpark and the area around it, partner with an excellent, exciting team to bring more fans to Camden Yards. This year’s Orioles have been an improved draw, but even Thursday night’s game — in which it was known a victory would clinch the division — managed about 27,000 fans, more than 15,000 below the ballpark’s capacity. The entire upper deck in left field was empty.
But those in the venue were impassioned, showing what the fan base is capable of when provided a reason to cheer.
“If we can pack that out every night, we’d be the most grateful group of players,” starting pitcher Dean Kremer said. “I’ve heard that this is quite the baseball community. A lot of nights we’ve seen that. It’s a special city.”
It’s home to a special team. Only a handful of this year’s players are free agents and thus unlikely to return next season. The string of losing seasons that preceded last season′s upturn not only netted the team the early draft picks that have produced many of their top young talents, but also created a group of core players who weathered those struggles together.
The next wave, as Norfolk’s success proves, is en route. Despite graduating several well-regarded minor league players over the past two years, the Orioles have retained their status as baseball’s top farm system. Jackson Holliday, who has followed Rutschman and Henderson as the sport’s No. 1 overall prospect, is among the Tides primed to arrive and help the Orioles win the division again in 2024.
“I can’t even imagine what it might be like in the future because I’m trying to soak it all in right now,” rookie infielder Jordan Westburg said while drenched in champagne and beer. “But hopefully, we have many more of these to come.”
That sentiment was shared throughout the Orioles’ clubhouse. They want to have three more celebrations this season alone: one for winning the AL Division Series, another for winning the pennant, a last for winning the World Series.
For the next 30 years, that’s all they and Baltimore should have to worry about.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the Orioles and the state of Maryland revealing Friday that Thursday’s announcement was not an official announcement of a new lease.
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