There are two kinds of chronic losers, the kind you love and the kind that are just annoying.
Here are some points to remember if we want to make sure the O’s stay lovable, even as the stain of a decade and a half of constant losing becomes increasingly ingrained in our municipal psyche.
1. Of all major league sports, baseball is the most local.
That’s why The Brew covers it more. The NFL can cajole almost any football fan to watch almost any game, but baseball fans remain fiercely partisan. No matter how much the Orioles lose, Baltimoreans still care more about whether Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino can rise to competent mediocrity than they do about A-Rod, Jeter and the rest of the Yanks.
2. As such, baseball is the most like real life.
The Lords of Baseball long ago realized that to maximize total revenue, they had to let the big boys (you know, New York and Boston) spend as much as they wished and dominate the league. Likewise fans there tend to think the rest of the world revolves around their towns. (Hey, Saux fans, nobody else really cares about Boston.)
3. Baseball teams thus reflect their communities.
New Yorkers really are as obnoxious as their Yankees. Toronto and Tampa Bay residents are oblivious to the Jays and Rays – and the Baseball World Order feels the same way about them. Bostonites chauvinistically preserve ancient Fenway Park the same way they protect precious Beacon Hill and the North End. Ancient Wrigley Field is at the heart of the traditionally toney north side of Chicago. Appearance-conscious age-denying Angelinos smugly care for the doddering Dodgers and Angels stadiums which, through attrition, have now become the third and fourth oldest in the game.
4. MLB inflates the meek hopes of the also-rans.
For the first time this year, Major League Baseball will have two wild card teams in each league, so the Orioles can now finish as low as third place and still have a chance to go the World Series. (As far as I know, I was the first person in the world to propose this, two years ago in The Brew.)
5. Aiming lovably low, Dan Duquette deflates dreams.
Our new general manager has staked out a modest goal: a .500 season. This is quite a contrast to Andy MacPhail’s grand delusions of a year ago. MacPhail went out and got Vlad Guerrero, who proved to be washed up. (Though the last vestiges of his former bat magic did deliver some pleasurable moments.) Duquette has resisted grabbing this year’s “Vlad,” old Johnny Damon, best known for his clubhouse comaraderie in the grand tradition of another former Red Sox “idiot” and Orioles dead-ender, Kevin Millar.
6. There are always shining lights.
OK, so Matt Wieters hasn’t become Johnny Bench and Adam Jones isn’t Joe DiMaggio. But it’s still wonderful watching them play the game against the gorgeous backdrop of Camden Yards and that magnificent warehouse. On the other hand, Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis play ugly, which is why we got them cheap. Maybe they’ll make home plate a viable alternative for the state’s wind farm site, but maybe they can also still win us some games.
7. “This is Birdland!”
Over the years, there has been a once subtle, but now obvious, shift from promoting the chronic loser Orioles to promoting the stadium. You see it in the copious use of banners around Camden Yards, the nurturing and upgrading of the plazas around the center field bullpens, the left field flag court and Eutaw Street. Don’t just go for the game-play, go for the “total fan experience!”
8.) Birdland is Baltimore.
The City of Baltimore is as much of an underachiever as our baseball team. Loving our loser team is wrapped in loving our town, just as Old Wrigleyville stands at the back of Chicago’s North Shore gold coast and Old Fenway stands at the back of the Back Bay. The Cubs and Red Sox were both lovable losers for a long time (until the Sox became obnoxious winners), and their historic stadiums were the headquarters of their support groups. Now they’re fashionable.
9. Camden Yards is baseball’s best park.
Baltimore started the urban ballpark revolution 20 years ago. Baltimore needs to embrace the urbanity and build the city around it. Those parking lots, and the freeway and railway air spaces beyond the warehouse, should become more people places, built around public streets with still more banners, to enable true disciples to be as close to the hallowed ground as possible. Oriole Park is but a starting point, married to the stadium of our winning Ravens and ultimately – seamlessly – to the entire city.
10) True love is an unconditional state.
“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” (Lennon-McCartney)