Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Why Not? to Huh?

I am a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles. This is a fact that has been the source of pain and frustration for many years. Usually, a team's fortunes go in cycles. You have a playoff level team full of quality players to which the organization commits during their heyday and then they get old or seek bigger contracts elsewhere, leaving the team in a less competitive place.T he team enters a rebuilding phase where it nurtures the next generation and in a few seasons' time returns to playoff form.  But this is not how the Orioles have proceeded, languishing in last place year after year since the last set of glory days in the early 1980s.

In 1988, the Orioles started the year by losing 21 games in a row and ended up losing 107 of 162 games coming in last.  They were awful.  It would be a rebuilding process that would take the team a few years to remake itself, everyone figured.  And then in 1989, the unthinkable happened, they started winning and then kept winning occupying first place and leading the jubilant city to ask "Why not?"  It was a magical year and the crowds responded with great fervor.  Memorial Stadium rocked as the Birds won and won and won.

This year is similar in some respects.  The Orioles are coming off of over a dozen straight years in which they have lost more games than they've won.  The playoffs haven't even been a daydream.  "Maybe this will be the year they come in second to last," we thought hopefully.  But then, something strange happened...again, the Orioles started winning and today they are in a tie with Satan himself (also known as the New York Yankees) for first place in the American League's eastern division...and it is September.  We are just weeks away from the post season and it seems likely that the Orioles will be there.

After so many years of futility, you would think that there would be this incredible pent up energy that would be exploding in support of the team.  In the past few years, Red Sox and Yankee fans have outnumbered us in our own stadium when their team came to town.  But now, the pride should be back.  There should be huge numbers of hyped up fans, excited for something they haven't seen in so long that fans who can drive themselves to the stadium have only heard from older generations -- playoff baseball in Baltimore.  Camden Yards should be absolutely electric.

But it isn't.  We've gone to a number of games this season with the short people and the place is as dead as usual.  Lots of empty seats, no raucous cheering, a very sedate place despite the success.  I'll be honest, for most of the season, I, like many others, would not let myself get excited.  The minute I started believing, I knew the downturn would come and they would revert to their old losing ways and break my heart and crush my spirit yet again.  But it hasn't happened.  They just keep winning.

And yet, while I see lots of jubilant posts on Facebook from my fellow Baltimorons, it isn't there in the Park.  As we asked in 1989 -- why not?  Is the energy not pent up?  Has it been so long that we don't trust it?  Is it that the fan base has been lost with another team in the neighborhood -- the Nationals with their young stars -- and with a perennially competitive football team next door in the Ravens?  Is it that there isn't star power on the Orioles -- no Cal or Eddie or Frank or Brooks to idolize as the personification of the greatness of the team?  We love rags to riches stories in this culture and we have a real life example here.  Why is this not another why not?