Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How High Can These Orioles Fly?

This morning, as most mornings, I sipped coffee from a garish orange and black coffee mug.  What's different this morning is that it's September, and the cartoon bird logo on the mug is that of a first place ballclub.

Last night, the Baltimore Orioles, plagued by years of terrible ownership, poor attendance, and the presumption of being the doormat in the AL East, the most difficult division in Major League Baseball, delivered a 12-0, 18-hit pounding on Toronto and moved into a first place tie with the New York Yankees at 76-59.

My Beloved Spousal Unit and I were frequent denizens at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore during our East Coast incarnation in the 1980's and early 1990's.  We'd drive up I-95 from Suburban D.C. through the streets of Baltimore, up Charles Street and down St. Paul, and perch in our seats like Shoe and The Perfessor from the Treetops Tattler-Tribune.  Whether alone or road-tripping with friends, we'd usually get lost in the city trying to make our way home -- especially at 1:00 a.m. on a Sunday night after a 12-inning game!

I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Frank Robinson, the Orioles manager from 1988 through 1991.  His Hall of Famer's self-confident bearing and shrewd managerial tactics taught my perceptive wife the intricacies of the game and turned her into a baseball fan for life.  (Thank you, Frank!)

After the high ceremony of the home plate relocation at the end of 1991, the grounds crew dressed in tux and tails, a new era for the Birds began near Baltimore's Inner Harbor in the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  We attended just a couple of games in April 1992; the beautiful, new ballpark with the throwback architecture was jam-packed both times.  But, as it happens, we moved away from the Free State of Maryland that season, just as the craze began.  The Orioles mug, a parting gift from our road-tripping friends, became a reminder of our good times. We followed the denouement of Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak and cheered Eddie Murray's 500th home run from afar.

A long, dark age for the Orioles followed, with fan frustration growing, contending teams rare, and the economics of Major League Baseball working against Eastern Division teams not in the Yankees-Red Sox and Mets-Phillies axes.  During those years, I thought Washington Post baseball writer Tom Boswell would suffer a stroke fuming over whatever was the latest cheapskate move by Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, before D.C. gained its franchise and diverted him.

But this year, somehow, some way, through draft choices and propitious signings, aided and abetted by a Yankees swoon and a Red Sox collapse, this flock of crazy birds has overcome its franchise-specific disadvantages and competed its way into a contending season.  Led by the team's three All-Stars, outfielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters, and 41-save closer Jim Johnson, and bolstered by a supporting cast of -- oh, who am I kidding!  I don't know who these guys are, and neither do most fans.  Faced with low television ratings and disappointing attendance, upstaged recently by the Washington Nationals to the south, it's been far too long since the national spotlight has shined on the O's, the cameras trained on the Baltimore skyline, the announcers eager to call B&O Warehouse home run shots.

I don't know much about these Birds, but I'm learning.  So is the rest of the baseball world.  I'm yearning once again to hear the fans yell "O's!" during the National Anthem.  I'd like to see how high this flock can fly.  It's time to sit back, enjoy a tasty beverage, and watch them earn their wings -- or try.


  1. Thanks for the post, Bob -- I'm still pinching myself, every single day. We'll see where they end up -- the schedule is not as easy as the Tigers' and the team maybe not as good as the Rays and Angels -- but we're truly "just happy to be here."

  2. P.S. Why not?



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