For the better part of this summer, it’s been eating at me.
And rather than fade away as it has in the past, it’s grown in intensity to a point at which it can no longer be neglected like the nine button on the microwave.
I need to reconcile my feelings about the Baltimore Orioles.
As a native Marylander whose awakening to the world of professional sports essentially coincided with the “local” baseball team instilling its second would-be legend in as many generations on the left side of the infield, the O’s were just about the most important non-familial thing in my life for years.
I have vivid memories of going to a playoff game in 1983, and the Rick Dempsey Sports Illustrated cover still hangs framed on the wall in my den. Of Mike Boddicker drinking glasses. Of the Cal Ripken growth chart on the back of my bedroom door. Of Ken Gerhart (the Ken Gerhart, you guys!) signing my glove at baseball camp. And so on.
The love would persist through streaks both epically good and bad, stadiums old and new, and an ace from Montoursville, PA unimaginably being allowed to leave town and don pinstripes. (And speaking of those Bronx Bombers, you haven’t rightly experienced hell until you’ve watched a kid in the rightfield stands turn a long fly out in a playoff game into a homerun … in New York … with your Yankee-fan fraternity brothers.)
The boyhood crush turned into full-blown love. My loyalty to the Birds never wavered.
Until it did.
There were a number of contributors to my waning baseball fanhood, but none more prominent than the way Peter Angelos was running the Orioles — alienating alumni (Brooks Robinson comes to mind), summarily dismissing great baseball men (like Pat Gillick, Jon Miller and Davey Johnson … whatever became of the latter, anyway?), letting Mike Mussina walk, and generally turning one of MLB’s loudest, proudest, most historic franchises into a laughing stock. (Skins fans say, “Hi.”)
When Cal Ripken was done, so was I.
And so, at the end of the 2001 season, I was no longer a baseball fan.
Over the next few years, talk of the failing Montreal Expos being moved to Washington intensified and ultimately became a reality (but not without sufficient appeasement provided to Mr. Angelos, of course, as he would now have a competing franchise in his backyard), and my dormant fanhood, still fueled by the coolest-burning of embers, was reignited, as much in defiance as pride. I went to games at RFK, bought a Brad Wilkerson jersey and suffered through bad teams and a crippling management scenario. But hey, it was our team.
Now here we are on September 6, 2012 with both the Orioles and the Nationals in playoff contention.
Mind-blowing as that is unto itself given where each team has been over the past decade, I suspect I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about the American League portion of the situation. I’m certainly not in a place where I can call myself an Orioles fan any more — that ship sailed (and sank) long ago. Yet I’m impressed with what they’re doing (even if there might be a “smoke and mirrors” aspect to it) and hope it continues … even if it would put money in Mr. Angelos’ pocket and, God forbid, a smile on his face.
Of course, it’s easier to wish your ex-girlfriend all the happiness in the world when you know you’re with the right girl now. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t feelings left to be reconciled.