Baltimore Orioles 2012: A Lifelong Fan's Guide to Optimism
This sentence literally came out of my 13-year old son's mouth this past April: "Dad, why do the Orioles always suck?" He was quite serious.
I looked at him and smiled, then realized after some fuzzy math (ok, basic subtraction) that he had not, in fact, been on this earth for a Baltimore Orioles winning season.
Sharing baseball with my son was something I wanted to pass on, as my father had to me. His stories of Ebbett's Field, Yankee Stadium (the original) and the Polo Grounds took my interest to a different level as a fan.
The Orioles had their own little slice of history as well. I was lucky enough to see a ton of games at the old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, and see some great players in their prime, as well as many past their prime.
"Who's that, Dad?" -Me
"That's Reggie Jackson, one of the best home run hitters of all time." -My Dad
"Wow. Really!" -Me
"Meh, not any more. He named a candy bar after himself, now he kind of sucks." -My Dad
Reggie countered with three strikeouts and decided against leaving the batter's box on a pop-out to short.
1997 was the last time the Orioles have made the playoffs and had a winning season. Coming off our own, yet remarkably less publicized version of Steve Bartman, the Orioles ran wire to wire for first place, beat Seattle 3-1 in the Divisional Series, and lost to Cleveland 4-2 in the ALCS.
It's hard to be mad at Cleveland, because their status as a sports town has been directly affected by Baltimore and a certain football team that shall remain nameless.
A decade, plus, of impotence has seen my family head to Camden Yards with the hope of getting an autograph or maybe a foul ball. While the chances of catching a foul ball are remote, so too were the possibilities of an Orioles victory.
So with each April and "fast" start, there was the optimism that this could be the year. The subsequent disappointment of May and the following months bred some contempt and reinforced the belief that I could in fact be the General Manager of an MLB franchise.
This year, the O's hit the field with the familiar gusto and bravado of a team that is always in first place (alphabetically) on Opening Day. There were a few small-scale maneuvers in the offseason, and with that came very little hope for anything outside of fourth place.
Then a funny thing happened. The Orioles kept winning. Then in May, they kept winning some more.
Living in central Pennsylvania, among the biggest bandwagon-eers this side of the Mississippi, gave me pause before wearing my faded throwback "cartoon bird " Orioles cap. The onslaught of Phillies fans, Yankee fans, and basically whomever is the most recent World Series attendee "fans" are a fixture in these here parts.
Imagine how much fun it has been to rock the orange and black colors all season up to this point. Roughly half-way through the season, the Orioles sit five games out of first place in the rugged AL East. They are tied with the fast-rising Angels for first in the AL Wildcard race, but the Red Sox and Rays are closing in fast.
Losing seven of their last ten games, Baltimore now sits exactly where they were at the end of May, seven games over .500. The once potent bats have cooled off somewhat, and the patchwork starting rotation is looking shaky at best. All of the Baltimore faithful are wondering after each loss if this will be the one that starts the slide into mathematical elimination.
This guy will hold out hope, though. With each win, I get hope that it will be the start of a streak in the right direction.
A pennant is most likely not in the future for the 2012 edition of the Baltimore Orioles, but it is a huge step in the right direction if they can manage to maintain their pace and keep the very tips of their beaks above the .500 line.
The faithful have returned to Camden Yards in appreciation of what was one of baseball's most storied cities. With attendance back, slowly but surely, the possibilities arise for Baltimore to once again be a player in the free agent game.
So join me in a toast. Lift your Natty Boh to the sky, yell "O!!!!!" during the national anthem, enjoy the musical stylings of the late John Denver during the 7th inning stretch, and most of all believe! This could be the year. Hon.
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