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Yorkers enjoy chance to talk baseball

RYAN VANDERSLOOT
505-5403/@yaiaascores

Even in the midst of winter, die hard baseball fans love to talk about their favorite sport and teams.

Chris Davis recently signed a big contract to remain with the Baltimore Orioles. That was one of the topics of discussion on Thursday's Hot Stove baseball talk in York.

To some, talking baseball is like a second religion.

So, a Hot Stove event like the one held Thursday evening at Zion Lutheran Church by former York Dispatch and York Daily Record sports reporter Dan Connolly was a perfect fit.

Connolly, who most recently worked covering Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles for The Baltimore Sun, held a group discussion, along with panelists Mel Antonen and Scott Proefrock, at the church. Nearly 100 fans showed up to discuss their favorite teams, mostly the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies, with the experts.

“This is a lot of fun,” said Connelly, who hosted the event for the sixth year. “This is just one of those things where I came up with the idea and asked the pastors. The pastor that was the lead pastor at this church previously was a huge Orioles fan. So we started talking and spit-balling ideas and I asked him what he thought about doing a baseball talk. And in the first year it was me and Jim Seip and we talked about the York Revolution and the Orioles.”

During his time covering MLB and the Orioles, Connolly met a lot of his peers in the media and in the front offices of the clubs. That is how he came to bring in Antonen, a regular panelist on MASN as well as a writer for SI.com and a host on MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM.

“One day I was talking to Mel in the press box about how I did this thing and he said ‘let me know about it and I’ll come up.' We’ve been friends for a long, long time. So he came up one year and he had a blast. So the next year I was looking for another guest and he came up and said ‘hey, am I doing this again?’ And I said 'if it’s for a free dinner, sure.' So he did and we decided to add somebody else.”

Many of the guests have had strong ties with the Orioles. Some of those include Jim Duquette, a former vice president of baseball operations with the Orioles, and Fred Manfra, a play-by-play sportscaster of the Orioles. The inclusion of Proefrock, now an assistant general manager with the Philadelphia Phillies, also had an Orioles connection. Proefrock previously worked for the Orioles in the front office.

“It’s funny because every year that I would do this I would talk with Scott beforehand to try to get a sense of where the Phillies were,” Connolly said. “So I could answer some Phillies questions. But he’s always at spring training when we did this. So this year we were able to move it up, partially because of my job situation, which is now much more fluid, and I could do it now. And, guest-wise, that opens up a whole new group of guests. So he was one of my first choices. So I gave him a bunch of dates and asked if any would work for (him) and he said this one.”

Orioles: Most of the questions asked were Orioles-related, and that suited Connolly just fine. He recently authored the book, “100 Things Orioles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” He signed copies of the book after the 90-minute discussion ended.

To the delight of the Orioles fans in the crowd, Connolly shared a brief interaction he had with Chris Davis, the Orioles slugger who recently signed a seven-year, $161 million-dollar contract to stay in Baltimore. Connolly has been the one to give out the Most Valuable Oriole Award each season. This year the award went to Davis, which provided Connolly a chance to chat with the first baseman, who was about to hit free agency.

“I said to him, ‘where will I be delivering this award next year?’” Connolly said. “And he laughed and looked at me and said ‘I’m really hoping it’s here.' And previously he had been really non-committal about that and that kind of stuck with me. And people were asking me if he wants to stay (in Baltimore) or not. And obviously it was about a lot of money, but I think that he did genuinely want to stay.”

With the Davis signing behind them, Connolly feels the Orioles could be a potential playoff team. But he thinks they still need to add a bit more depth as they battle teams such as the Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East.

“I think the Orioles are going to be in contention,” he said. “I think their pitching has to be better or they won’t be. I’d like to see them get another starting pitcher and a right-fielder/leadoff hitter. I think they’re going to be in the competition and, in September, they’ll be in the conversation.”

Phillies: In the short term, Connolly was less optimistic about the Phillies, who Proefrock admitted are in the midst of a rebuild. But a couple years years from now, look out.

“I think that the Phillies are not going to be very good,” Connolly said. “I think this is a rebuilding year and that’s the whole purpose behind trading (Ken) Giles. I think in a couple of years they can be really good and that Andy MacPhail is a wonderful hire. And working with guys like Scott, I think they’re in really good hands.”

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.