Remember Summer? The time for baseball pennant races to heat up, for the Birds to begin sizzling, when each day brought the promise of another game, another chance to either gain ground on the AL East leader or build the lead in the division?
It’s truly amazing and sad, simultaneously, that those feelings have completely disappeared here in Baltimore. The Yankees and their legions of obnoxious fans will walk into Camden Yards tomorrow and have the run of the ballpark. Just as they’ve had it for the past seven years or so. And the saddest part is that it doesn’t matter to me anymore. Sure, it bothered me in 1999 and 2000, before all the losing slowly ground down my passion for the Orioles and baseball. But the past five years are not my fault, or yours, or any Birds fans. They are the fault of an entire franchise, from the ownership on down. A franchise that has spoken through their inaction, indifference to their fan base, and general attitude that tells us, "We know better than you."
I really love baseball. Always have. When I was a boy, it was all baseball, all summer long. As the heat of August bled into the cooler September evenings, there were my Orioles, fighting the good fight, taking on the hated Yankees, Red Sox and even Tigers (remember the old AL East?). Football was a secondary diversion, something to grab my attention for a Saturday night and Sunday, as I prepared for the Baltimore Colts next game. Even when the Colts were watchable and competetive in the mid-70′s, they always took a backseat to the Earl of Baltimore and his team. Why? Probably because I had built a relationship with the team over the course of May to September, because they mattered every day, they played smart, fundamental ball, and they won. Even when they didn’t win the division, they were always around the lead, always a threat to reel off a five game winning streak, and you’d wake up one morning, look at the standings and say, "Wow! We’re just 2 back!" A perfect example of this would be in 1980, when the Birds won 100 games, yet finished 3 behind the Yankees! Even though they didn’t make the playoffs, I was always proud of the fact that they were really better than all the playoff teams, they just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Obviously, that has all changed for the worse. The greatest sin this organization has made, in my opinion, is the overall boredom and irrelevance that surrounds it currently. For every Miguel Tejada signing, there’s been a Brooke Fordyce, a Marty Cordova, a Danys Baez, that makes any passionate fan say, "What the hell are they doing? Do THEY even know?" That type of message is a poor one to send; it publicly demonstrates, again and again, that there is no plan, no long term solution, no credibility. And when that same message is repeated each offseason, it drives me further and further away from caring about them.
This is a landmark year in Major League Baseball. Barry Bonds will soon surpass Hank Aaron as the alltime home run king, like it or not. Sammy Sosa has joined the 600 home run club, which is fairly elite company, seeing as he’s only the fifth player in history to do so. Roger Clemens will bid for his 350th career win on Wednesday night here in Baltimore. Ken Griffey Jr. is primed to join Sosa in the 600 HR Club. Craig Biggio is closing in on career hit number 3,000. Frank Thomas is one HR shy of 500 for his career. Tom Glavine should nail down his 300th career win before the season is over. Get the idea?
Yet, here in one of the greatest ballparks ever designed and built, we greet all this news with a collective shoulder shrug and yawn. Because there are tens of thousands of you, just like me, who have felt disenfranchised by our franchise. And who won’t give two you-know-whats that the Yankees, and even worse, the Yankee fans, will turn OPACY into Yankee Stadium South from Tuesday through Thursday. Perhaps we can take some comfort in the knowledge that their fans have to pay a premium for their seats this week, or didn’t you notice that stroke of marketing genius by the Warehouse?
If you are a regular visitor to this terrific site, you’ve probably noticed a slowdown on commentary over the past three days. You see, we’re all trying to find ideas to write about, material that will get you thinking and reacting and responding, and that can be very difficult when it comes to our baseball team. Unless it’s about another managerial change, or another front office executive who will "change the direction" of the franchise, or another player popping off about being "disrespected", there’s just not much to discuss. Lose 2 of 3 in Arizona? Whatever. Release Todd Williams? So what. Put Danys Baez on the DL? Good riddance. On and on it goes, ten years’ worth now, and no end in sight.
So enjoy your summer, the vacations and the time with your families. I’m sure you’ve already circled July 29 on your calendar. Start planning for September through December (and hopefully February!). Go see a concert or play. Check out your children’s sports leagues. Read some good books. And recall the good times, the days when Cakes was pitching, when the Bee was swiping bags, when Singy was riding an eighteen game hitting streak, when "Full Pack" was loading the bases before striking out the side. You see, it really did happen. And it really DID matter.