Today marks the day when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training for the Baltimore Orioles, the team I love. In a salute to them, and to the coming baseball season, I am re-blogging a post I wrote four years ago when they made the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years. Here’s hoping the upcoming season will be just as good, or even better.
I know, it’s just a game. It’s a game that I played when I was younger. The first sport I ever played. Once I became aware, there was a team that played its games in old Memorial Stadium, and then later at Camden Yards. They won lots of games, they won a World Series, and then another. There was also 0-21. The “Why Not?” O’s the following year. The Streak. There were names: Frank, Brooks, Boog, Jim. Eddie and Cal. Boddicker, McGregor and Flanagan. Dennis and Tippy Martinez. Mike Mussina. Jeff Reboulet. Raffy Palmeiro. Harold Baines. So many names, so many games.
The Baltimore Orioles.
And then after a season where they won the American League East and had the manager of the year, but fell short of the World Series, nothing but bad decisions, trades and acquisitions that didn’t work out, and losing. Fourteen straight years of losing. There were some peaks, but more valleys. And seemingly, without fail, an Oriole season that would dawn with the promise of improvement would inevitably bog down in the summer heat, melting like an ice cube on a hot day.
Come 2012, and another season that began with hope springing eternal, but with modest expectations. Then the wins started to come. And they kept coming, and stacking up. The Orioles made it to June, and hit a rough patch. The die-hards figured, “Ah yes, here it comes. The annual summer swoon.” By mid-July, they had fallen ten games behind their well-heeled and high payrolled rivals in the Bronx. Somehow, someway, they got back on track. The ten-game lead began to shrink. The Birds kept plugging away, with the lead disappearing in mid-September.
The national media kept waiting for the Orioles to collapse. As the run differential kept hanging in the negative, many a baseball pundit couldn’t understand how the Orioles were doing so well. When they fell ten games behind the Yankees, they figured the Orioles were as good as done. I have to admit, it has been fun watching the national media talk about these Orioles and their magical season; if I needed any more reason to be proud of this team, hearing pundits gush about how they kept fighting and how resilient they were added to the good feelings.
Meanwhile, with those wins, the team managed to stay alive in the wild card chase. Then they had the lead for the first wild card spot. Then they won their eighty-first game of the season, ending the fourteen year losing streak. Now at this writing, the Orioles are at 92 wins and counting, with three games left in the season. The moneyed rivals have been caught. The best record in the American League is possibly in sight. And with a loss by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever the hell their name is), late Sunday night of September 30, 2012, the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs.
Yes, the Baltimore Orioles. The team of my youth, the team I saw win the 1983 World Series my senior year of high school, the team I still loved even as they wandered in the wilderness for almost a decade and a half, will be playing postseason baseball. I watched the last out of the game between the Angels and the Texas Rangers; saw catcher Mike Napoli catch the popup off the bat of Kendrys Morales.
Playoffs, baby! I smiled with glee, and without a warning, tears began to fill my eyes. Men aren’t supposed to cry, they say, and it’s only a game. But the joy-the indescribable joy-of seeing the team win games and watching them finally, improbably, unbelievably make the postseason brought forth emotions I didn’t even know existed. I thought of Chuck Thompson, whose “Ain’t The Beer Cold!” punctuated many an Oriole win. I thought of Mike Flanagan, who committed suicide, believing he failed the team he loved because in his role as general manager he couldn’t get them back to winning. I thought of Elrod Hendricks, a man who bled black and orange, even in the lean years.
Yes, I cried. Then, I smiled as I shared the great news with folks on Twitter and Facebook. I thanked Adam Jones in a tweet for such a great season. You look at a team like this, and there’s no way they match up with the likes of other clubs with more talent. Yet there they are, winning games and getting ready for October baseball, whatever it may entail. Even if their postseason trip only lasts for one wild card play-in game, this ride has been worth it. What a season.