SARASOTA, Fla. — In the middle of a rally, Dean Kremer made an astute observation: “You can hear a pin drop,” he said.

The Orioles right-hander was correct. The entire clubhouse paid rapt attention to the two players in the middle of the room and the little orange ping-pong ball being batted back and forth between Kremer and Ryan O’Hearn.

The onlookers stood or pulled up their chairs along the sides of the table, and when Kremer finally ended the point with a forehand blast that evaded O’Hearn’s swipe, a roar went up.

“He really slams that forehand,” O’Hearn said. “Got good topspin on it.”

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Kremer won the Orioles’ ping-pong championship Thursday on the back of his forehand blasts, taking a two-games-to-one result with a runaway third set at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

O’Hearn, considered the underdog, stole the second-set victory to create even more intrigue from his teammates, but Kremer proved superior in a competitive contest that served as a way to break from the monotony of a spring training morning.

“This means everything,” Kremer said, in a faux-postgame interview as he was goaded by his teammates. “We work so hard for this all offseason. Ryan put up a really good fight. Had me a little nervous there in the second, but we pulled through.”

The path to victory for Kremer was long, and he was tested throughout. His first-round matchup came against Gunnar Henderson. Then he beat catcher Mark Kolozsvary and shortstop Jackson Holliday.

O’Hearn knew the test Thursday would be considerable. As the first baseman battles for a place on the Orioles’ roster, he also geared up for a place atop the ballclub’s ping-pong hierarchy. He tried to stay away from Kremer’s forehand, pushing his shots to the right side of the table.

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“The backhand was my only chance to get him,” O’Hearn said. “I was kind of feeding the right side of the table, trying to get his backhand, maybe he’d mess up a few times. But he just was the better ping-pong player today.”

O’Hearn could feel the result slipping away in the third game. At one point, he called a timeout to converse with Ryan Mountcastle and Terrin Vavra. Their advice: Keep the ball on the table.

He tried.

“It was 15 to 10, and then he [Kremer] went on a pretty solid run,” O’Hearn said. “Once it was 19 to 11, then I knew I was in trouble. But he’s a quality ping-pong player. Got a nice backhand, forehand, competitor. Glad I took one from him. I knew he was the undisputed No. 1 seed going in, so kudos to Dean Kremer. Solid ping-pong player.”

Kremer, who’s set to join Israel for the World Baseball Classic, stayed in Sarasota for a few extra days to pitch his bullpens in front of the Orioles coaching staff. The ping-pong tournament was another motivator, though.

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“The tournament is one of the most important things here,” Kremer said, noting how his “inside-out forehand” was the separator.

The dichotomy of sport was on display. As Kremer laughed and high-fived teammates, O’Hearn slinked back to his locker, dreaming of the shots he missed, the moments that could’ve led him to the title instead.

“Back to the drawing board,” O’Hearn said. “I think we’ll get back in the gym, train, go see my guy and be ready for the next tournament.”

After all, now everyone knows who the player to beat is: “Now I’ve got a target on my back,” Kremer joked.

First camp reassignments

There were no major surprises from the first round of spring training reassignments, which saw the Orioles spring training roster drop to 59 players from 71. The biggest name to be reassigned to Baltimore’s minor league spring training setup was third baseman Coby Mayo, the seventh-best prospect in the Orioles organization, per MLB Pipeline.

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Mayo hit a laser of a double Tuesday but finished his major league camp by hitting 2-for-14. Mayo reached Double-A Bowie last season and is likely to start at that level again.

The other reassigned players were outfielder Robert Neustrom, first baseman Curtis Terry, infielder César Prieto, catcher Ramón Rodriguez, and right-handed pitchers Wandisson Charles, Ofreidy Gómez, Morgan McSweeney, Kade Strowd, Cole Uvila, Chris Vallimont and Ryan Watson.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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