I grew up in the heyday of the Orioles. Shortly after I was born, they won the World Series, and their lineup boasted some of the best baseball players ever to play the game.
I grew up with the glory of Eddie Murray – in fact, one of my first words was Ed-die! I wore my Oriole jacket over my easter dress on several occasions, and lord help you of you tried to take my hat off my head.
I grew up listening to WBAL instead of pop music, and in order for me to sleep in the winter, I had to listen to a pre-recorded game from the previous season…over and over and over again.
I grew up basking in the glory of Cal Ripken. I had the pleasure of being a fan during some of his most productive years, and the sheer joy to see him break a record (that will likely never be broken again) the night the Orioles unrolled the numbers “2131″ on the warehouse and the roar of the crowd left me deaf for hours afterward. I don’t really remember much of the game, but I do remember him – his humility, gratefulness and the amazing patience oozing out of him as he took the time to sign autographs, shake hands and make his special day about us. I may have shed a tear or two. I know my Dad did.
These, and many other wonderful baseball experiences, were how I got what other people call “the baseball bug”. I love stats, I love pitching duels and small-ball games. When my Dad taught me to keep score at a very young age, I honed that skill as often as possible, eventually proving myself worthy of managing my high school baseball team. You can hear me yelling right alongside my Dad often, encouraging players to hit “just a little bingle baby!” and “hit it in the cheap seats!” (not that they’re cheap anymore!) if the mood strikes us right. We occasionally get that *feeling* that a player is “due” and have called more homeruns than I’d care to admit. To this day, my favorite game was on May 17, 1996. My Dad got box seats, and it was just the two of us. We were down by 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth against the Seattle Mariners (who still had Ken Griffey Jr.!) when I jokingly called a Chris Hoiles “ultimate” grand slam as he ran the count up to 3-2. He ended up hitting the most beautiful shot to the left field bleachers, and is the only player ever to do that in major league history (23 other players have hit “ultimate” grand slams – where the bases are loaded in the bottom of the 9th and you’re down by three runs … a walk-off grand-slam, if you will).
Now, as I get older, my baseball focus, especially in score keeping has holes, and I finally left a game early for the first time this year, much to my dismay, but the seats were just so damn uncomfortable after my surgery, and I get tired so easily. I still remain a dedicated fan, thought, watching games at home and listening to them on a snowy DC affiliate of WBAL. I believe in Orioles magic… even when they break my heart year after year.
This season, though, something about the Orioles’ perseverance despite constant criticism and that drive that they had to become a cohesive team, it affected me as I continued to struggle “up hill”. Getting home in time to watch the Orioles play because a shining silver lining to my 29th year – a year otherwise full of pain, the sacrifice of my family and friends, and the growing love I have for my “cohabitant” (he’s filling out his clearance forms for his TC…).
“My Orioles,” I used to call them: when everyone else was giving up, going to the ballpark was (and still is) one of my favorite things to do to sooth my nerves. I am that annoying fan whistling and cheering and painting my face. One time I was so frazzled I skipped out on a test in college to go to the Orioles game. There with my scorebook and my Orioles hat, wouldn’t you know it, but it was the first time I’ve ever been on TV. I’m just thankful my professor was administering the test and not watching the game!
Baseball is like ballet – it is an art that can never be perfect. You can study the pitchers, but you’ll never know what they’ll throw. You can run 6-4-3 double play drills, but you don’t know when the second baseman is going to trip, or his throw will be wild. For a kid with severe attention issues, baseball was (and still is) my coping mechanism. It was something I ate, slept and breathed when I was a child, and it is something that feeds my enthusiasm, my positive outlook and, sadly, often my fatalistic attitude.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the first time I’ve been down this road. I’ve felt the playoff magic one other time, when, under Davey Johnson’s watchful eye, the fellas headed for the playoffs in 1997. I was 14 years old, but I remember being IRATE when Angelos fired Johnson after losing in a playoff series, and so my Dad took us out of school one day so we could “Picket” on Eutaw Street. I even drew Davey Johnson’s face on a giant piece of poster board (I wish I had kept it, since now he’s gone and coached the NL’s last-place team to a division title in one season!). It eased a little of the pain, but it’s been a rough going for the last 6 years watching team after team falter.
While sometimes it irks me that these fans come out of the woodworks when the team is winning, I’m happy that Camden Yards is once again full of cheering O’s fans, and not every-other-team-on-the-east-coast fans. I, however, will always be a true Orioles fan – win or lose – because it’s part of who I am. I mean, I yell “O” during the national anthem – even when I’m not at the ballpark! I just bought new orange-and-black glasses for goodness sakes!
The deeper thing is, though, that they are now a part of me in a way that has become glue – filling in my holes and helping me stay together. I don’t know what I will do when baseball season is over, but I know they did for me: exactly what I wanted them to do. I desperately wanted them to surprise people, and end the season over .500. They have done both of those things, so I will be proud of whatever the outcome-tonight, tomorrow (if necessary) and Friday if they play in the wildcard duel to the death (even if I have to watch the game at work!).
I am PROUD, so proud of MY Orioles. I stuck with you for better or worse, and you showed me how to struggle in an uphill battle and come out on top. Thank you for that – your part in my healing process is a big one, so I will continue to hold you (and Vicodin) in my heart forever for the strength you’ve taught me – just like a TRUE fan always should.