Stop for a second and think about the most enjoyable Orioles seasons in your lifetime. For most it won’t take very long. For me, born in 1973 there have been 7; and no matter what happens from here until the home stretch, this may rank as the best. It’s unlikely to be the most successful from an achievement standpoint, although you never know, but when the dust finally settles on this one, it’s likely to be my favorite.
Last week as the Ravens and Orioles were competing for eyeballs on Thursday night I got a taste of just how sweet this baseball season has been, and some perspective too.
When the Orioles announced that budding legend Manny Machado, the next great hope for Baltimore baseball, was set to make his debut, some of the more cynical souls among us immediately began wondering whether it was a coup. Some were of the mind that it was a concerted marketing effort by the city’s now second favorite team, playing an actual and meaningful game, to usurp or upstage the city’s newer, favorite team as they staged what was for all intents and purposes a glorified practice. (Practice?!?!?! Practice?!?!?!?!? We’re talking about practice?!?!?!?)
Indeed we were taking about practice, or the necessary evil that is pre-season football as a chance to whet our football appetites and as a harbinger to the excitement that is the NFL regular season.
That experience however was short lived at best as Ravens fans found themselves quickly up in arms over the team’s failure to shine in the brief tease that was the starters portion of the first quarter. Meanwhile the baseball team playing to a crowd of 21,000 or so fans found themselves buried early against the team with the worst record in the American League behind their best pitcher putting in his worst performance of the season…and the town was melting down over the football team.
It’s easy to mistake what the Orioles are compelling from the fans as indifference but it isn’t. Most fans are invested and excited and waiting to see what happens next; but they’re also surprised and cautious in their optimism as no one can no for sure what’s coming next.
For as tired as folks are of hearing “if I had told you in April that the Orioles would be in this position…” they’re aware of it too. They’re aware that the Orioles weren’t supposed to be this good, and might not be this good. They’re aware that the bottom can drop out of this thing at any moment and have prepared themselves in kind. And if that bottom does indeed fall out, it’ll be okay. Not at first, but eventually it will be okay. That is what we prepared ourselves for in the first place. And if the bottom never does drop out it’ll be euphoric. If this season ends with a playoff appearance or even a deep run of success therein we’ll take it, but we won’t or can’t expect it. It’s all house money.
If the team though, does manage to perform in October, and/or does make a splash in the off-season that gets fans to buy in, that wide-eyed optimism will be gone. It’ll be replaced by expectations and bona fide hopes. The “house money” aspect of Orioles baseball will be gone and the “all or nothing” mentality that has defined the last few football seasons will take full hold.
From here, 14 seasons removed from credibility and expectation, that sounds like fun, as it does with the beginning of each new football season currently. As we find ourselves in the midst of it however, it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Our emotional investment becomes so tied to what happens at the end of the season that it spoils our enjoyment of the season as a whole. For now Orioles fans have no such problems.
That will change slightly as the season winds down and as the team’s fate is decided one way or another, but not enough to sap what this season has been and what it has meant to so many. It has, no matter what happens from here, been a season to remember. But as soon as it ends, no matter how it ends, everything will change. Fans will demand that the team do what’s necessary over the off-season to take the next step forward; they’ll begin next season with expectations that the team can somehow duplicate or improve on this year’s performance. They’re lofty and worthy goals but goals that will change our perspective.
Enjoy this baseball season for what it’s worth, wherever it ultimately takes us because it’ll be a long time before you’ll allow a team to surprise and excite you like this one. It may not be all downhill from here, we can certainly hope not, but this feeling, the one we’re getting courtesy of this team, this year, has a quick shelf life and one that’ll be over once the season has ended (if not before).
It’s been 23 years of ups and down since 1989 and the last time Orioles fans were asking “why not?” and a lot of great fans have come and gone since then. Who knows if any of us will be here to see the next one? So enjoy this one while you have it Baltimore. These are the seasons where die-hards are born.