Although I was born in Annapolis, I grew up South of Baltimore in a small town named Severna Park. I was always closer to Annapolis and spent more time there. I spent summers on the Magothy and the Severn and knew much more clearly what it meant to be an Annapolitan than a Baltimorean. However, for the entirety of my youth, there was always one thing pulling me north towards the larger city, Baseball.
The complexity of the inherent simplicity of the game made it easy for me to love. You can learn to play the game in a matter of minutes or hours, but it takes a lifetime of attention and study to grasp the game's nuanced strategies. Perhaps it just plays to my detail oriented nature, but I've always loved America's pastime.
I can't remember the date that I attended my first Orioles game, but I do have a clear recollection of the day. I remember traveling into Baltimore with my parents and stopping at one of my aunt's homes near Memorial Stadium. It was one of those beautiful brick row homes that hearken to the days when Baltimore thrived on its shipping and manufacturing industries, supporting the construction of entire neighborhoods of finely wrought buildings. I don't recall much of the interior of the home or the conversations we had walking to or from the ballpark, but I do remember that my grandfather, who was notoriously frugal, stuffed a number of foil wrapped pieces of butter into his pocket because, "You never know when you might want some." I was old enough to be embarrassed, but he was unabashed in the way that only someone who grew up during the Great Depression can be. I also remember the hilarity of the butter melting in his pocket during the hot afternoon game. I remember that the Orioles won the game and that I was enraptured with the entire experience.
I soon began to watch and listen to the nightly broadcasts of the Orioles as they fought to win the pennant each season. I would watch the game until my mother turned the television off insisting I go to bed. My parents generally required me to be in bed by 9 during the summer, but I was allowed a radio. Every night I fell asleep to the call of some combination of Jon Miller, Chuck Thompson, Joe Angel, and Fred Manfra. The Orioles were a proud franchise that held the hearts of not just Baltimore, but all of Maryland and Washington D.C., with huge chunks of Pennsylvania and Virginia tuning in to the "Orioles Radio Network" as well.
In time, Camden Yards was opened and became the crown jewel of the baseball world. It was, and is still, everything a ballpark should be. Unimpeded views, a classically conservative color scheme, and all in the shadow of the iconic brick warehouse. It was perfect. For years, after it opened in 1992, Camden Yards was the hottest ticket in town. It was difficult to find seats and was sold out practically every night, but the magic didn't last.
If you follow baseball at all, you know it's been a long time since there was a winning season in Baltimore. The once mighty Orioles had not had a winning season since 1997, when they went wire to wire in first place and won the division. I was 13 at the time. A series of horrible trades, thoughtless free agent signings, and questionable draft picks left the Orioles decimated. They would be destined to toil in obscurity in the basement of the AL East for the next 15 years. About two weeks ago, that all changed. For the first time in 15 long years, the Orioles won their 82nd game.
To fans of teams like the Red Sox or the Yankees, who regularly spend upwards of 100 million dollars a summer, a winning record may not seem like something to be cherished. To Orioles fans, it was cathartic to win that 82nd game. Even though the team was in the midst of a pennant race, the wait was over. We were no longer talking about when or if, but now.
On Friday night, we attended the game in which the Orioles drubbed the Boston Red Sox and maintained their pursuit of the Yankees for the American League Eastern Division crown. It was fun having discussions about the Orioles' magic number to clinch a playoff berth and talking with other knowledgeable Orioles fans. It's been so long since Camden Yards was so full of life and energetic. Once again, it was magical.
The Orioles won again today in their final home game of the season. I wasn't at the park, but I watched every pitch. It was a day game and once again, it was the Red Sox that the Orioles took to task. The Orioles magic number was now one. It was to the point where other teams losing could clinch the playoffs for the Orioles, and around 7 pm this evening, that's exactly what happened. When the Rangers beat the Angels, the Orioles had suddenly done it. Following 15 straight years of sub .500 baseball, the franchise was once again in the playoffs. I can't truly explain how emotional it was for me in words. It was my childhood passion revived and it meant the world to me.
For years, when choosing usernames, I've always chosen "StillAnOsFan" in honor of my lovable losers. Not only does that seem to lose its wit when you consider that the Orioles are contending for the division once again, but I also have a feeling that after this season, I won't be the only Maryland native remembering back to the simplicity of a childhood summer and finding that they're Still an O's Fan. And you know what? You'll never hear me say one word of complaint about it.