Young O's building strong bond with Birdland fandom

February 6th, 2023

ODENTON, Md. -- was in a situation Sunday afternoon he never could have predicted happening at any point in his life. Not even after he became an MLB player.

He was standing behind a bar, wearing his Orioles jersey and holding a baby.

Considering it happened at Crooked Crab Brewing Company -- the final stop of the Orioles' four-day Birdland Caravan tour -- you may be able to piece together how Hays got there. Baltimore fans are buzzing with excitement this offseason, and everybody wanted to interact with O's players all weekend.

So when it was Hays' turn to serve as a guest bartender, a woman asked if she could pass her baby over the bar top for him to hold. Hays said that if she was good with it, then he was, too. And sure enough, the 27-year-old outfielder soon had an infant in his arms -- and a small head resting on his shoulder.

It was one of the many moments this weekend that showed just how popular the O’s are again. Players mingled and drank a beer with fans at several Happy Hour events, and they spent time in the community at numerous other venues around Maryland.

“It’s electric, people are excited,” Hays said. “They love the guys that are on this team now. We have some identities, we have some different things that the fans get behind behind certain players. You have the Omar whistle behind [Félix] Bautista out there. Those are things that you love as a fan. Those are things that make the stadium atmosphere fun. It’s been great. …

“It’s just a really exciting time in Baltimore and Birdland.”

The biggest theme of Birdland Caravan weekend was the raised expectations for the Orioles coming off an 83-win season in 2022, their first winning campaign since '16. The players know that the next logical step is to now get back to the postseason for the first time since that year.

Fans are showing their support, and they want to be at Camden Yards deep into October this year.

“I’ve never seen an offseason like this before. I wasn’t in the big leagues when we were doing well,” said left-hander , who debuted in 2018 and was a rookie in '19. “To see all the support in the offseason like we’re seeing and doing things like this, seeing all the fans and the smiles on their faces and the cheering, it’s really, really fun to see. And this place is packed. Baltimore has such great fans and I’m glad we’re finally getting them out to support and cheer us on.”

The Orioles may have caught some people by surprise by outperforming external expectations in 2022. They won’t be sneaking up on anybody in '23.

“We did exactly what we needed to do last year, and I felt like our presence was felt amongst the division and other teams in baseball,” right-hander said. “I think they know that we mean business, so it’s just time to take it up another notch.”

Hays is among the older players on Baltimore’s roster who have seen the entire rebuild play out. He broke into the big leagues in 2017, then returned to the Minors in '18, when the O’s traded core players such as Manny Machado, Zack Britton and Jonathan Schoop. General manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde were hired the following offseason.

The inexperienced players who received opportunities during the challenging seasons from 2018-21 have since developed, and more talented players are on the way from the farm system. It’s easy to see why both the Orioles and their fans are excited.

But Hays also realizes what the club needs to do next.

“Now you’re starting to see those young guys and the core group that’s been able to stick in the big leagues for a few years be a big core part of this team,” Hays said. “Now you’re getting some younger, talented guys and some veteran guys signed in each year. We had a lot of success last year, and now we really have something to build off of going into this year. We’re expecting to win this year.”