“You can’t have posters of baseball guys on your wall and flowers on your comforter,” my Mom complained, “John, why are you making her do this?” My dad had been admiring the posters of Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson he had framed in my 7th grade bedroom.
“He’s not making me!” I said, to his delight. “This is what I like!”
When the Orioles moved into their new stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I couldn’t wait to go. I had a video from the inaugural opening day I watched again and again. Brady Anderson gave a behind-the-scenes tour of the field and clubhouse.
Long before Al Gore invented the Internet, when West Coast games ran too late for their scores to be printed in the Baltimore Sun, I called the number they printed in the paper to hear the box score. I read about them every day. I didn’t get to go to the All Star game in ’93, but I sat in the very last row in left field for the Home Run Hitting contest. I was there when Ken Griffey, Jr. hit the warehouse. I wasn’t there when Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s streak for consecutive starts, but I was the there the night he tied it.
My pride in the Orioles doesn’t extend much farther than that. Their last winning season was in ’97, so for the first few years after, there wasn’t shame. Just “growing seasons” and bad years. But now, 13 years later, it’s been a tough run. We’ve endured 8 management changes, steroid scandals and Sidney Ponson. When I was in high school, they announced the attendance at every game; there were many consecutive sellouts and attendance was routinely in the 40,000s. A couple years ago, they stopped announcing it. It was too embarrassing.
Daniel and I have had a partial season ticket plan for the past 4 years. We’ve learned to sell off Red Sox tickets. While I’m grateful for the money their fans pump into our city when they descend upon it, I do not enjoy the sight of them traipsing around in their jerseys all weekend, do not enjoy their loud in-your-face cheers for every play. Several days before our wedding, we left a Sox game early (not our common practice) because Daniel said he didn’t want to have a black eye in our wedding photos.
All of this to say, it’s been a long road. It’s still going to be a long road. It’s not fun to root for the home team when the home team never wins. Still, we return every April, usually braving low temps and freezing rain, with renewed hope that this may be better than a “rebuilding” year. This may be the year things start to turn around. “I tell ya, they’re gonna be fun to watch this year,” my Dad and grandfather say every Spring Training. I love it. It’s endearing, it’s just usually not true.
But this year, I’m jumping on the hope train. This year it feels different. It’s not because they started 4-0. It’s not because I met second baseman Brian Roberts in the off season (and acted like an idiot). It’s not because, for the first time in my memory, the home opener took place on a gorgeous, cloudless, 80-degree day. Or because fans—our fans—in black and orange stayed engaged for every call. It’s because so far this year, the team has swagger. The last couple years I felt like I wanted to give them all hugs. They looked even more miserable than I did, and win or lose, they were still making millions. But not this year.
This year, Daniel and I arranged for a series of three family members and friends to watch the girls so we could go. Daniel rescheduled a flight to Chicago, which then got delayed until 11:00. On this perfect day, we sat in the stands and remembered what it was like to be us. “I’m still in love with you, you know,” he said around the 7th inning stretch, after trying his best to embarrass me with obnoxious off-beat clapping to “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” I know this is true. I think it was because we finally spent time together without tasks to accomplish or kids to chase. It could have been the weather, or the almost $8 beers. Then again, it could have been the Orioles magic….it’s only April, so it’s too soon to tell.