Pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training last week, and across the country, baseball fans are once again filled with hope. In Washington, hope of a new ballpark has Nationals fans brimming. New York and Boston are already saving money for playoff tickets. Baseball fever is everywhere from the Valley of Sun in Phoenix to the mountains of Colorado, and deep into the heart of both sides of Chicago. For baseball fans, this is the time of the year when hope springs eternal.
But here in Baltimore once again we find ourselves conflicted about our local nine. The trade of Erik Bedard has generated some optimism about the future. Adam Jones might be that next great player. Some fans are excited that the front office has for the moment relented, and it finally looks like they are going to rebuild this team the right way.
But most of all, what I truly sense is a lack of passion about the start of spring training and baseball in this city. I guess that is to be expected; after all, we have had a decade of despair. A decade filled with empty promises and false expectations. We have heard how Sidney Ponson was the next Jim Palmer, and how Curtis Goodwin and Alex Ochoa were to be our next version of Blair and Robinson.
It didn’t used to be this way. Remember a time when we circled the start of spring training on our calendars, when we knew the day opening day was and counted down to it? Quick–does anybody even know when opening day is? Double credit, who are we playing?
Two years ago, I went to Spring Training in Florida, and I remember how excited fans from the Braves, Dodgers, Red Sox, Twins and Phillies were. Then I remember going to Ft. Lauderdale Stadium and not seeing that with the Orioles. I didn’t know whether to be mad or sad. I guess to be honest, I just accepted it.
The greatest challenge for the Orioles in this rebuilding process is to make themselves relevant again to real sports fans. You and I, not some bandwagon corporate guy who goes because it is the place to be, or “Buffy the Socialite” who goes just to be seen and show off her new shoes.
We, the real fans who collected baseball cards, who could name the starting nine for almost every American League team and most of the National League, are the ones that probably will take a little more time to trust and to hope again.
For many of us the passion and fire is all but gone, not extinguished but just kind of smoldering in the flame of bad season after bad season. There is a reason it is not out entirely because no matter how frustrating, we want to believe again. We want the Orioles to matter again, the way the Ravens do every Sunday in the fall. We want Camden Yards to be a real home field advantage again, the way 33rd Street was.
Orioles Magic, it just wasn’t a slogan; it was part of growing up in Baltimore. I want my nine and four year old nephews to grow up cherishing the Orioles like I did in the 70s and 80s.
Maybe Adam Loewen will be their Mike Flanagan, and Camden Yards will mean to them what Memorial Stadium was to me.
Before we get to that we need a quick infusion or a start. We aren’t going to take a quantum leap; maybe this year we can take baby steps. Maybe just maybe the team will inspire us the way they did in 1989. We want the talk to be about players on the field and how they are progressing, not about what the front office and the owner are doing. We want our past honored and treasured, and we want this group of players to play with the same class as those that came before them.
Let’s hope this spring is the start for us of a new and exciting chapter in Orioles history. Let this be the season that begins our journey back to respectability, not just the beginning of another lost season.
We’re not asking for a pennant or even a winning season. What we want is to feel proud of the team name on the front of the jersey, even if it doesn’t say Baltimore. We want to feel like our future is getting brighter, not just a continuation of summers past.
This spring that is the hope that keeps me and many like me interested.