FanMan’s newest writer is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan.
My name is Margaret, and I’m an Orioles fan. Whew, it feels good to be able to say that! For the first time since I was in the 3rd grade, people don’t laugh or say, “oh gosh, I’m so sorry” when I tell them that when it comes to baseball, I’ll always bleed orange & black. For the first time since I was in the 3rd grade, I see highlights of late summer games at a packed Camden Yards & it doesn’t look like Tropicana Field or the new Miami Marlins stadium (sorry Rays & Marlins fans, but it’s true…) with a smattering of fans within camera shot & empty upper decks. For the first time since I was in 3rd grade, my boys of summer are playoffs bound.
Being an Orioles fan is not easy, and it’s been especially difficult for the past 15 years or so. The fact that I’m almost 24 means that I remember the most recent glory days, 1996 & 1997, the last time that Eutaw Street was crawling with fans & smelling of Boog’s BBQ into October.
I remember Jeffrey Maier snagging the fly ball from the outstretched grasp of Tony Tarasco in ’96 & the night we clinched the division after going wire-to-wire in ’97. I can’t hear John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” & not think of the 7th inning stretch at Camden Yards.
My grandfather, Vince Bagli, was the sports director for WBAL in Baltimore for almost 30 years. I grew up hearing the stories about Brooks Robinson & Earl Weaver & Jim Palmer & Eddie Murray & Frank Robinson, while I watched my Oriole hero, Cal Ripken, set the consecutive games record in ’95, these are names that live in Orioles infamy.
How many fans can say they root for a team whose greatest 3rd baseman is commemorated in a Norman Rockwell painting? I mean, that’s pretty cool. I lived down the street from Mike Bordick, the first guy to play shortstop other than Cal Ripken for the Orioles since 1982. Baltimore is a baseball city in the truest sense, and the mid ’90s were pretty magical.
My grandfather took me to a game in the summer of ’97, and it’s a day I’ll never forget. We got to the park early to watch batting practice; we sat right by the 1st base dugout in the mid summer sun. I watched Cal, Brady Anderson, Robbie Alomar, & Raffy Palmeiro spraying hits all over the outfield; it was baseball geek heaven.
Suddenly, one of the ballboys popped out of the dugout holding a scuffed ball & said to me, “Davey [current Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who managed the O's in '96 & '97] asked me to give this to the first fan I saw.” Having spent many summers trying in vain to catch a foul ball, I was psyched to have one handed to me! We spent the game sitting just below the pressbox, as Granddad taught me how to properly score a game & snagged me gifts from the announcers who were just so excited to meet Vince Bagli.
After 1997, something changed. It was as if the Orioles forgot how to win. From 1998-mid 2010, their win-loss record was 884-1,146. That’s 262 games under .500, no matter which way you slice it, that’s pathetic. Our beautiful ballpark with the loyal fans who little by little began to leave because the team looked like it just didn’t care, sat almost empty for many games during many summers. The troubles that plagued our O’s weren’t completely because of lack of talent, but more a lack of team vision.
I’m not sure where exactly we hit rock bottom, maybe we hit it more than once. Was it 2005, when the team started 42-28 & finished 74-88? Was it August 22, 2007, the day Dave Trembley was named manager & the team promptly lost to the Texas Rangers 30-3? Was it finishing last in the division in 2008, something that hadn’t happened to the Orioles in 20 years? Whenever rock bottom was, I wonder if any of us fans ever thought we’d find our way back to the light. Fans aren’t supposed to be embarrassed to be fans. These are our guys, this is our team.
July 30, 2010, though, marked a new beginning. Buck Showalter left his post as a broadcaster for ESPN to come back to the dugout, this time in Baltimore. Nobody knew if anything would come of it, since the O’s had started 2-16 that season. At the end of 2010, however, there was reason for us to hope. Buck’s first month (August), the team’s record was 17-11, their first winning month all season. Change was slow, but it was coming…
2011 was a mix of the good & the bad, to be expected from a team trying yet another rebuilding scheme. From across the country (now in my senior year of college in California), I could tell that the team’s attitude was evolving. There was a toughness in these players that had come together that I hadn’t seen in the Orioles in a long time. They didn’t make the playoffs, heck, they finished last again. But, on the last day of the season, they knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs at the exact same time (literally) that the Rays were coming back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees to sneak into the wild card spot, a sequence of events noted as one of the greatest days of baseball, ever. The way they celebrated, piling onto hero 2nd baseman Robert Andino as if he’d hit the World Series winner, showed me that the team was beginning to find “The Oriole Way” once again.
Since the 2012 season is still going (!) it’s hard to have perspective, so I’m just going to be giddy for a little bit. When this season started, I looked at the roster, we probably all looked at the roster and said a collective “who are these guys?” Sprinkled in with the long-time Orioles like Adam Jones, Nick Markakis & Matt Wieters were names like Nate McLouth, Chris Davis & Mark Reynolds, veteran guys who weren’t exactly known for their consistency (except for Reynolds, he had consistency, to strike out). When the team finished the first half of the season with a winning record, all I kept hearing was “yeah…but”.
Yeah, they’re winning, but they’re gonna run out of steam.
Yeah, they’re doing well, but they still have a bunch of games left against the Yankees.
Yeah, they’re a good story, but they won’t last.
They don’t have any pitching, they have too many injuries, they allow too many runs.
On September 13th, the O’s clinched their first non-losing season since 1997 on a walk-off single from 20 year old rookie 3rd baseman Manny Machado, converted from shortstop when he was called up just 6 weeks prior.
September 30th, the Rangers held on to beat the Angels just like we needed them to & I got emotional, I knew the O’s had clinched a playoff berth. I got emotional for Nick Markakis, who could have left after the ’09 disaster season, but instead signed a 6 year extension & was sidelined last month after being hit in the hand by a CC Sabathia fastball. I got emotional for Buck, who will get AL Manager of the Year if there is any justice in this crazy sport. I got emotional for Mike Flanagan, Oriole great & former GM & broadcaster who took his own life last August, just as the glimmers of hope had begun to shine brighter in Baltimore. I hope he’s in heaven so proud of these guys. I got emotional for the fans; we’ve waited so long for the winning atmosphere to make its way back to Camden Yards, and finally it’s back.
Yeah, but we root for a team full of guys playing with nothing to lose. Extra inning games? No problem, they’ve won 16 straight, one off the major league record that has stood for over 50 years. One-run games? No sweat, just check the record, 27-9! They are guys working on 2nd & 3rd chances to chase their dreams, taking nothing for granted. We can all sit back for a minute & marvel at what the guys have done this year. If you, like me, get a little emotional at the thought that baseball will finally be played in October in Baltimore again, embrace it.
No matter what Tom Hanks says, it’s okay to have crying in baseball.
Margaret Hooper writes for TheFanManifesto