MLB Opening Day 2024: Opening Day in Baltimore marks a momentous celebration of a new day

Between the 11-3 Orioles victory and the message of new owner David Rubenstein, it was all "positivity and optimism" for the O's and their fans

BALTIMORE — The orange wave of 45,000 rose in unison, before a pitch had even been thrown, to honor the arrival of a wry, bespectacled, 74-year-old billionaire.

Optimism is a bizarre beast.

Opening Day 2024 at Camden Yards was more than a celebration; it was a coronation, a reminder of a glorious past and a glimpse at an exhilarating future. For a franchise that has been a punchline for most of the 21st century, an organization sputtering along in disarray, the unfettered positivity of Thursday afternoon was a different universe.

Beneath an overcast, early-spring sky, the defending AL East champion Orioles pulverized the visiting Los Angeles Angels by a score of 11 to 3. The crown jewel of Baltimore’s offseason, 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, delivered an 11-strikeout masterpiece. Face of the franchise Adley Rutschman tallied two hits and two RBI. Franchise veterans Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins both homered. It looked like 2012, sounded like 1983 and felt like 1966.

But the contest itself was almost secondary on this day. The pregame ceremonies, full of the accompanying pomp and circumstance, carried more heft and buzz than usual. Some of that was simply the result of a 101-win team with the best farm system in baseball returning home to a stadium full of rowdy fans. But the added positivity was also attributable to the presence of the aforementioned billionaire: David Rubenstein, the brand-spanking-new controlling owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

Rubenstein, 74, was formally introduced Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the club announced that his ownership group had been unanimously approved by MLB’s other 29 owners. When his name was mentioned during pregame introductions, the sold-out crowd responded with a standing ovation. The crowd doled out applause once again when Rubenstein strolled to the mound to deliver the ball for the first pitch to Aubree Singletary, the daughter of a city postal worker. The symbolism was evident, as Rubenstein, who grew up in northwest Baltimore, is the son of a city postal worker.

“I really want to give back to Baltimore in a modest way,” said the man who purchased the club for $1.725 billion. “My expression of appreciation for all that Baltimore has done for me over the years and for my family. So I grew up here. I was educated here. My parents grew up here. They were educated here. My parents are buried here. And I will be buried here. And I really want to say to Baltimore: This is a new day, a new chapter.”

Even though the news that the private equity magnate and native Baltimoron was set to purchase his hometown team had been public for months, Rubenstein’s presence in and around Camden Yards on Thursday represented the dawning of a new day.

Hours before a packed house erupted with an ear-splitting “O” during the national anthem, Rubenstein spoke to the media and assembled guests at a midmorning news conference. Clad in a navy blazer, a pair of unironed, pleated khaki slacks, navy Ugg sneakers and a black-and-orange, diagonal-striped tie with the Oriole bird emblazoned at its blade, the man who once spent $21.3 million on a copy of the Magna Carta struck a casual and understated figure.

After an introduction from Maryland governor Wes Moore, Rubenstein addressed those gathered — which included Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott, Senator Ben Cardin and Orioles Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray — with an even-keeled optimism.

“I hope what can happen is: The Orioles can … by beautifying the city, by recovering the kind of greatness that it had in 1966 or ‘70 or ‘73, we can win a World Series again. But to do that requires everybody to pull together.”

It was clear to all assembled that they were watching a man who knows how to work a room. Rubenstein spoke for about 10 minutes — without any notes — and covered a wide array of topics while focusing on the bigger picture. He spontaneously called upon Ripken, who is part of the new ownership group, and GM Mike Elias, both unprepared, to give a few remarks. Rubenstein also used the past as a harbinger of the future, repeatedly referencing his memories of watching juggernaut Orioles teams run rampant through the American League and wishing to return his boyhood club to perennial prominence. He even made a self-deprecating joke about the evils of private equity.

But more than anything, Rubenstein focused on restoring the connection between his city and his team. The past 30 years of Orioles ownership under Peter Angelos — particularly the past five under his son John — were tumultuous and bizarre. They oversaw a general decaying of the Orioles’ relevance in the Charm City and beyond. Now it is clear, from day one, that Rubenstein’s top priority is to reestablish the Orioles as an institution, a strategy that is likely to include upgrades to the outdated but charming-as-ever confines of Camden Yards.

Any person who has donated as much money as Rubenstein is a person who cares deeply about the concept of legacy, about being remembered for what you leave behind. His purchase of his beloved Orioles — about whom he displayed an impressive historical knowledge on the MASN broadcast — is a big swing to give back to the city that crafted him into one of the most successful businessmen in America.

But it will take time for Rubenstein to make his mark on the Orioles. Neither Rome nor Camden Yards was built in a day. And it’s one thing to express a commitment to this franchise; it’s another thing entirely to back that up with investment in the roster, in the stadium and in the organization as a whole. Still, it was apparent Thursday that the Orioles’ new owner is a serious tactician, a talented communicator and a respected leader. And unlike with his direct predecessor, John Angelos, it’s clear why Rubenstein was able to build himself into such a successful businessman.

Before the Orioles took the field, Rubenstein briefly spoke to the players in the clubhouse. Asked to describe the nature of the new owner’s speech, Rutschman, the team’s voice and superstar, responded with just a few words: “positivity and optimism.”

About an hour after the final out, with the stadium vacant and the jubilant fans long gone, a ray of sunlight burst through the clouds from beyond the home plate grandstand. The otherwise upbeat afternoon had been spent entirely under a dreary, grayscale sky. But as the light danced dramatically on the sides of the buildings beyond the outfield fence, it created a shimmering sheen on a sliver of the Baltimore skyline.

At the end of a new day, a warm glow.