MINNEAPOLIS -- Orioles manager Dave Trembley planned to do his laundry when the club arrived home around 4 a.m. Thursday following an overnight flight from Minnesota. Between "wash" and "spin", he figured he'd read the scouting report on the Cleveland Indians in preparation for the opener of this weekend's series later that night.
It's not that the skipper is that much on edge, even though his contract status remains uncertain for 2010 and the sliding Orioles are only 12-25 since the All-Star break. Rather, Trembley simply is a stickler for detail and routine. And the first thing he does when he returns from a trip is the laundry, no matter what time he arrives. It gives him a sense of order.
He needs all the order he can get right now because, at this moment, life would be difficult enough for the Orioles if all they had to worry about were the growing pains of top prospects like catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder Nolan Reimold and pitchers Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jason Berken and David Hernandez.
But that's not all they have to worry about.
There comes a point in any youth movement where the cultural change causes the inevitable friction, and preventing the jaded players from poisoning the newcomers is not a job for the faint of heart.
They had Aubrey Huff behaving as if running to first base was a three-day event (they traded him to Detroit).
They've got veteran Melvin Mora's toxic attitude (contract up this year, praise be, with a 2010 option that has as much chance of being picked up as Boog Powell does of batting cleanup for the O's next summer).
And they've got veteran Felix Pie, who has all the talent in the world while retaining the baseball acumen of an aardvark. He made two crucial -- and elementary -- baserunning mistakes in Tuesday night's game in the Metrodome that helped cost the O's a victory.
This is not a good baserunning team in general, despite the Orioles spending extra time on the skill this spring. Trembley called Pie into his office to discuss the miscues before the series finale Wednesday, one of which came when Pie was doubled off of second base when Justin Morneau caught a foul ball in front of Baltimore's dugout. Pie thought catcher Joe Mauer had made the catch and then fell into the dugout. But instead of waiting for the umpire to tell him to advance to the next base -- the rule for when a player falls into the dugout while making a catch -- Pie started jogging on his own.
"You don't have a little sound piece in somebody's helmet out there," Trembley said. "Base running is an instinct, base running is anticipation, base running is the score, the situation, the number of outs, how important is my run and who's on deck. It's all instincts. The coach doesn't tell you when to go and when to stop. It's too late. When you're out there playing the game, you're on your own. All of that stuff is predetermined.
"I take full responsibility, but the player should be accountable. What am I going to tell Felix Pie (Tuesday) night when he's at second base and there's a fould ball right in front of the dugout? Do you think you're invisible? Come on."
The Orioles knew they would have to be patient this summer while waiting for their prospects to ripen (though Pie, acquired from the Cubs earlier this summer, does not fall under the "prospects" umbrella and was not around during all of those spring drills). They've funneled millions into the farm system and into a Dominican Republic academy since the arrival of Andy MacPhail as club president, but there's no substitute for time.
The biggest surprise this year is that pitchers like Tillman and Matusz weren't ticketed for the bigs until 2010. But injuries conspired to move up that timetable. MacPhail says he's satisfied with the development of many of the prospects and that things are moving forward. That doesn't make the losses easier to tolerate, though, and the learning curve will only steepen in September when the baby Birds face stretch run games in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
But there is no other way.
"We're not winning in this division by taking shortcuts," MacPhail says. "It takes time, energy and the resources to do it right. We're not going to slide by in this division. We have to have a good nucleus of young talent."
Finally, the Orioles have a pretty good start in that direction. Wieters, Matusz, Tillman, Fernandez. ...
"You really [lean on] a lot of people," MacPhail said of the evaluation process and making the call on when the prospects are ready to taste the majors. "The manager, your minor-league development people, and you make the best judgment call you can.
"Fortunately, at this point, none of them has given us any indication that they have to go back."
Given what he's had to work with, neither has Trembley. But with the clock ticking and the losses mounting, his future seems more and more uncertain.