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Fresh faces have O's excited for camp

Fresh faces stamp camp's first day

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles greeted their first day of Spring Training on Saturday, and the storylines of the day seem to have an enduring quality to them. Baltimore manager Dave Trembley can expect to speak about Koji Uehara and Matt Wieters for most of the spring, and chances are he'll be happy to do it.

"It's a great time for everyone who loves baseball, and I think that's especially pertinent to the Baltimore Orioles," Trembley said during his first media briefing. "We have a lot of new players. We have a lot of first-year guys that are coming to big league camp. I think the face of our team has changed. We're all anxious to get started."

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Baltimore got that out of the way Saturday, staging an informal meet-and-greet on the day pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. Virtually all of the O's noteworthy pitchers were present, with the glaring exceptions of staff ace Jeremy Guthrie, ex-closer Chris Ray and first-round draftee Brian Matusz.

None of the players was required to report to the facility on Saturday, but there was still a full house. Utilitymen Ryan Freel and Donnie Murphy were in camp a full week ahead of schedule, getting a jump on adjusting to their new team. Baltimore will stage its first workout Sunday, and closer George Sherrill is looking forward to it.

"I guess right after the turn of the year, you get that itch again," said Sherrill, who had 31 saves in his first run as a closer. "You want to be here, and the winter always goes by fast. It's always exciting coming here and getting to know the new guys -- helping them along and getting them in the mix as quick as possible."

Still, the stars of the first day of camp were Wieters and Uehara, two highly anticipated players who will likely make their Baltimore debuts this season. Uehara, a Japanese free agent, signed a two-year contract with the Orioles, while Wieters, considered by many to be the top prospect in baseball, will likely start the season at Triple-A Norfolk.

Uehara took turns briefing both the Asian and American media Saturday, while Wieters only had to handle half that assignment. The switch-hitting catcher said that he's ready to embrace the season no matter where he starts out.

"It's always good to get started again, and getting down here to the warm weather in Florida is never a bad gig," said Wieters, who was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008. "I'm looking forward to getting going. It was a short offseason, but at the same time, you're always looking to get back out there and get playing."

Pitchers and catchers will undergo physical examinations Sunday before they hit the field. The position players will repeat the process next week, and the first exhibition game will be played on Feb. 25.

The Orioles will kick off their Spring Training slate with three home games in the first four days of competition. The O's will welcome the Mets on Feb. 25, and they'll also see the Cardinals and Marlins over the following three days. The team's first road game is against the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., on Feb. 27, one of eight times it plays at Roger Dean Stadium.

Thanks to the vagaries of Grapefruit League travel, the Orioles will face just two of their American League East division rivals this spring. Baltimore will face Boston four times -- twice at home and twice in Fort Myers, Fla. -- and will host Tampa Bay, the defending AL East champions, on March 21 at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Only one other AL team is on the O's Spring Training slate, and that's the Minnesota Twins. Baltimore will pack up and leave Spring Training on April 2, and will conduct two exhibition games against the Nationals. The first one will be on April 3 in Norfolk, Va., and the second one will be at Nationals Park the following day.

And after that, there will be nothing left to do but start the regular season. The Orioles kick off the 2009 campaign at home against the New York Yankees on April 6, and the Rays will visit right after that. Then Baltimore will hit the road for its first trip, a two-city excursion that will take it to series against the Rangers and the Red Sox.

Trembley, who said he kept in touch with plenty of his players over the offseason, seemed truly thrilled to be back at his job. The manager had the walls of his office adorned with charts that measure playing time and the usage of his pitchers, and he said that he looks forward to balancing everything out to its best effect.

"Everybody feels pretty good about themselves," he said. "We're coming to camp where there's an awful lot at stake. This will be a camp where the theme is opportunity, yet it will be competitive. There are positions that are open. Our thought process was to try to make them feel comfortable coming in, communicate to them what is at stake and then give them an opportunity. I think that will be something we're really going to have to focus on and have to watch."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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