When you win a World Series, the next season's spring training is one long leisurely celebration. You play 'em quick, say "Save it for the season" when you lose, then head home to the stone crabs and daiquiris by the pool while the sun's still high.
Champs get to sleep late, like the Baltimore Orioles did last March.
When you finish fifth, the next year's exhibition season is part boot camp and part revival meeting. Chumps wake up early, leave late and spend lots of time meditating on their sins.
That's why in the ninth inning Saturday, trailing the New York Yankees by a run, the Orioles were rooting as if this were pennant-race warfare, not a soggy spring-training opener.
"Let's start pulling the rug out from under some people," screamed an Oriole voice, and others took up the chorus.
Within moments, Floyd Rayford answered those prayers with a three-run home run off Joe Cowley for a 5-3 victory. The way the Orioles tried to pound the rotund Sugarbear to mush, you'd have thought they had won something that mattered.
"Oh, the guys were really happy," said Rayford, chuckling. "Almost like the regular season? No, I'd say it was a little bigger than the reaction you'd get in the season. Last year, we got kinda flat. We know we have to get back to the way we played in '83."
Every exhibition opener seems full of portents. From here to Lakeland to Palm Springs to Sun City, ballplayers are telling their wives that the '54 Cleveland Indians better start worrying. What's so tough about winning 111 games, anyway? Nevertheless, this was a ridiculous game for Orioles tea leaf readers.
The first two Orioles hits were by Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn, the free agents bought for $9 million to revive the offense. Lacy also tripled and scored the spring's first run. Naturally, Eddie Murray drove him home.
Rookie Larry Sheets, trying to fill the open designated hitter spot, hit a 420-foot home run on his first swing. "I almost got all of that," said the 220-pounder. Mike Young, who led the Orioles in RBI over the last two months of '84 (with 31 in his last 51 games), continued to look like a possible star with two scalded hits.
Pitcher Dennis Martinez, counted on so heavily to fill in for injured Mike Flanagan, looked excellent in three innings, giving up one tainted run. "I've let down enough people the last few years," said Martinez, who admitted to alcoholism a year and a half ago and is finally returning to form. "I'm not going to let them down this time . . .
"That was the real Orioles out there today -- three-run homer in the ninth," Martinez said, grinning.
Of course, one day in March means nothing. The Orioles still have the same old problems at second base, third base and catcher because Rich Dauer and Rick Dempsey still can't hit, and Wayne Gross' defensive range is smaller than his shadow. Even the starting rotation's just one injury away from big trouble.
Nonetheless, this is an excited and potentially exciting team. "Gosh, I like what I see," says Terry Crowley, the new batting coach. "I know you're not supposed to put pressure on yourself by talking, but we're going to be a real good offensive ballclub."
"What a difference Lacy and Lynn make to that lineup. Last year, we seemed a little thin in talent. Now, all of a sudden we look like we have hitters everywhere you look."
"This camp is loaded with talent," says veteran John Lowenstein, "especially if you're an outfielder or DH."
"Some people are fighting for their lives down here," says Jim (Pigpen) Dwyer, who may be one of them.
With Young a fixture for the future and Sheets bearing a "won't-miss" tag, the Orioles suddenly have more bats than they can get in a lineup. From scarcity to surplus in a wink.
Perhaps this day will prove to be just a cruel false spring, a reminder of the sort of Oriole Magic that made the '79 through '83 seasons so special. Maybe these Orioles aren't as "mad and hungry" as Manager Joe Altobelli says they are. Maybe the American League East is just too tough for a team that still must depend heavily on role players like Rayford and "happy warriors" like Dempsey and Dauer, who lack great skill.
But for one day, it didn't seem that way. "It's almost scary how well the three free agents seem to fit in," said coach Ray Miller. "(Reliever Don) Aase worries me. He hasn't done anything wrong yet. Smart, quiet, great stuff."
The first grapefruit game is always for sweet optimistic images. Two will linger from this game. One is Rayford's home run streaking over the Coors Light sign in left field with two on and one out in the ninth and the Yanks ahead, 3-2.
The other came not at game's end but long before it began. The diamond was empty, the grass the deep tropical green of Florida, made dewy and glistening by a soft humid mist. Lynn, the perfect symbol of the new expensive reconstructed Orioles, disturbed the silent symmetry by jogging to the "401" sign in center field.
The first Oriole of spring ran alone, gingerly, lightly, like some prancing healthy animal in its prime. When he reached that furthest wall, Lynn leaned against it and pushed, testing his foe's resiliency, looking for hidden posts behind the dark tin surface, even bending to peek through a hole in the wall and see what might lurk there.
Before Lynn stepped on the field, it was still winter, even here. As soon as he emerged, it was spring again.
For the Orioles, that meant a rare commodity was available once more: hope.