Feeling a little down today? A little troubled? Maybe a little tense or a little you don’t know what? Believe the thing to do is just get away, maybe go to the city? Be by yourself? Get lost in the anonymity where nobody knows your name?
Don’t go to Federal Hill in Baltimore. Or Fells Point, or Mount Vernon, or Little Italy or Corned Beef Row. Nor would I suggest Highlandtown, Pigtown or Downtown because you aren’t going to be alone. But you will be surrounded by friends — friends you’ve never met before, thousands of them dressed in purple and black and then in orange and black.
Baltimore is currently the happiest city in America.
How about ’dem O’s, hon!
This has gotten completely out of hand. Here you have Buck Showalter, former Seinfeld bit player, who had been out of baseball for, what, 30 years? (Actually three-and-a-half). And he’s given the job as manager of a downtrodden baseball team and the task of, you know, maybe getting it to .500 for the first time since Bill Clinton was president and Davey Johnson was Manager of the Year. Just keep things interesting, you tell him, until the Ravens season starts when we all can go down to the Johnny Unitas statue and feel good about ourselves.
So what does he do? In the course of 26 months, with the help of some obviously very good players (but none so good you’d take his baseball card out of your bicycle spokes), he changes not only the mindset and habits of a team, but re-charges the baseball self-esteem of an entire city.
Yes, Baltimore is a football town, but once more, after 14 years of losing, Baltimore is one of the great baseball towns anywhere. This will become apparent to you early this evening when you hear that noise coming from your television set as the Orioles host their first postseason game in 15 years against — and how can it get any better than this? — the New York Yankees. But not before the Ravens take on the Kansas City Chiefs at 1 o’clock.
Beer distributors in Baltimore, safe to say, are going to have a very busy day tomorrow.
Once again, as it has since Opening Day, when something seemingly goes wrong for the Orioles, it immediately becomes an overwhelming right. Lose two out of three to Tampa to close the season as the second wild card? Not a problem. Just go to Texas to meet the free-falling Rangers, rather than the out-of-this-word hot Oakland A’s.
Need a starting pitcher to face the Rangers’ highly-touted and highly expensive Japanese import Yu Darvish? You’re covered. Send Joe Saunders, a left-hander you picked off the Arizona scrap heap, a pitcher the Rangers historically light up like the Vegas Strip, and he gives you 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball to get you to a bullpen that surrenders runs the way pre-spirits Scrooge surrendered coin.
This makes no sense. But then neither did the presents under the Christmas tree the first time you were old enough to realize all that loot was for you. But you know what? That it made no sense didn’t bother you then and, if you’re an Orioles fan, it doesn’t bother you now. You had it coming, if for no other reason than to prove to your children that, yes, it did happen before and, yes, it can happen again.
“Neither of my sons has ever witnessed an Orioles playoff game,” Baltimore resident Rich Hawse, father of teen-agers, who has now witnessed all 79 Orioles playoff games, said Friday afternoon. “1997 seems like an eternity ago.”
In a baseball sense, 1997 is an eternity ago, and through that eternity, every Orioles fan’s checklist had been checkless. Until now:
• Just want them to finish .500 — Sept. 13, check
• Be nice if they could win 90 — Sept. 28, done.
• Are you kidding me? Playoffs!? — as of Sept. 30, after an emergency plane landing in Jacksonville, playoffs.
Certainly, the 1997 season and all the horrors that proceeded it will never be forgotten, nor should they be. But no longer will it be the year Orioles fans mark as the beginning of the end of baseball time.
The Orioles are alive and Baltimore lives with them and through them, as evidenced Friday night in every neighborhood and every bar district in the city. Is there any stopping this mania now that it has risen from its self-imposed nothingness? Would it be too much to believe there is any more left in a team that has already delivered on so many unimaginable moments?
As the top seed in the American League, the red-hot Yankees will have home-field advantage in the best-of-five Division series. Thus, the final three games, if needed, will be played at Yankee Stadium, where, in this out-of-hand, makes-no-sense season, the Orioles are 6-3 and have won all three series.
One never knows, does one?
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org