Former Orioles pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who pitched the very first game in Camden Yards (a shutout, at that), will be on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, previewing Sunday night's Orioles game against the Yankees. We got a chance to talk to Sutcliffe about that first Opening Day, his fondness for Camden Yards, and why he picked the Orioles to win the AL East Division this year.
Does Camden Yards have a special feeling for you?
There’s no question. There will be an Opening Day every year, but there will never be the first Opening Day ever again. It truly ranks up there for me. I was blessed to throw first game at Wrigley when they turned on the lights. Those are probably the two most memorable moments of my career.
It was kind of interesting. I flew up to Baltimore in December  as a favor to [manager] Johnny Oates, who was a great friend of mine. He said he wanted to sign me, but I wasn’t sure. My daughter was older and we wanted to stay closer to home. He walked me out on the mound at Camden Yards. He told me, "You’re the only one that knows, but I already have you slated for Opening Day." I hadn’t thought about becoming an Oriole before then, but I looked around and thought it was truly something special.
What are your memories from that Opening Day?
I knew that the Orioles had had a rough year the year before. Obviously, Cal was the shining light for the season and the organization. I just knew that, for us to turn things around, a couple of young guys named Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald needed to move things forward. I knew I had to set an example of leadership. We had a great closer in Gregg Olson, but I knew I needed to stay out there [until the end]. When Johnny came and looked at me after the eighth inning, I said “What?”—real matter of fact. And he said, “That’s all I needed to know.” I wanted them to know you have to feel like the best guy for the club in that situation—whether I was or not.
You’re an ESPN analyst now. What’s it like working at Camden Yards?
I think the stadium will always stand the test of time. First of all, there’s lots of history in the way they constructed it. As I look up over the first-base dugout, it reminds me of Wrigley. Other aspects remind of Dodgers Stadium or old Busch Stadium. The thing I didn’t realize was how much the Baltimore Oriole fans knew about baseball. You need to be there for 81 games. They love the game, they know the game. I thought it was amazing—they built the people exactly what they deserved.
What did you think of the Orioles 2012 season?
I go back to the year before that in game 162. We were there when they came back to eliminate the Red Sox. I saw the same fire in that team that night that I had always seen in Buck Showalter. That team took on his personality of being a fighter. People don’t realize that Buck was a pretty good player and he wasn’t really a tools guy—it was desire. He’s put pieces in place with these guys who always had talent, but never put it together.
When I was there for the 20th anniversary, I’ll never forget them taking the field and watching Wieters run out like he was a tight end, Adam Jones, Hardy, Machado, Davis, these guys are so athletic. They’ve learned how to win. I didn’t think last year was a fluke. Back in January, we were asked to pick who would win the division, and I picked the Orioles again. I think Friday night is a huge game for the organization this year.
What do you think are the keys to the Orioles success?
I think the number-one strength they have is Wieters at the plate. He’s more about damage than he is about anything else. More importantly, it’s what he does behind the plate with a glove in his hand. That’s what makes him a marquee player. This American League East, any one of those five teams could win it. Wieters is what gives them that separation. Buck is a guy whether you like it or not, he’s going to be honest with you. I’m sure he’s told Chris Davis, "This is what you’re good at; this is what you’re bad at." So Chris was able to really focus on what he’s good at. Not everybody is as honest as Buck. If you take it the right way, it’ll really help you.
What is unique about being an Oriole?
Once you put that uniform on and you walk around that city. You go to lunch and some guy comes up and says, “It’s great to have you in Baltimore.” The next thing you know, he's sitting down with you and your wife, talking baseball history for 10 or 15 minutes. I just think it’s the pride. It kind of got away for a while. But Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette have put the pieces in line again to really bring the pride back to the team.