Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Baltimore and Baseball

I love Baltimore and moving here 13 plus years ago is a decision that I have never once regretted. When I moved here, I immediately felt at home, as if to say, “Hey, Baltimore, where have you been my whole life?” As a city, it’s not flashy or pretentious and neither are the people. If they try to be, the joke’s on them—it just doesn’t work here.  I chose to move to Baltimore from the D.C. area for two distinct reasons:  it’s quirky and cheap. Well, cheap is relative, but for sure it is more manageable than most other cities in the North East. And, it is indeed quirky. I hit the nail on the head with that one.  I was born in New York City but my family moved to a very small town in Northern New York (I’m proud to call Canton, NY my hometown) and Baltimore seems to be the perfect blend of my two experiences growing up—small town and big city. So, since spring of 1999, I’ve been proud to call Baltimore my adopted hometown.

I wasn’t a big baseball fan growing up. My father loved baseball, but didn’t have an affiliation—he was still mourning the loss of his beloved Dodgers who had moved from Brooklyn decades earlier. We were so far north, that going to a professional game meant going to Canada to see the Expos play. Or maybe, a Red Sox game in Boston. Many folks up there are Yankees fans—it is still New York State after all. Hockey was the spectator sport of my choosing and even then, it was Division I college hockey that I preferred over the professional variety.  Fast forward to the present day—I would describe myself as an avid baseball fan—more to the point, an avid Orioles fan. I have been for most of the time that I’ve lived in this city. Each of those past seasons has meant rooting for a losing team. My husband, Greg, has been a lifetime fan of the Orioles and remembers their past glory. He has taught me about the sport and we’ve followed the Birds together each season.

This season, we have probably watched about 140 of the 159 (on television with the exception of going once to the ballpark) games that have been played thus far. I was miffed last week, when Greg started making weekend plans that did not revolve around watching the games. “You mean, that with just 6 games left and the Orioles in the race, we’re going to not watch the games???!!” Clearly, Greg had momentarily lost his head and we made sure that our every activity of the weekend revolved around the chance to see our beloved Orioles play ball. For the first time in fifteen years, the ball club is making it to the post season.   

A decade ago, the Baltimore City government began a new campaign aimed at bolstering the citizens’ home pride which would have a cascading effect over the entire city-- banishing crime and making the drug-addled go straight all with one simple word:  Believe.  The message was simple and the hope behind it palpable. The cool among us would roll our eyes. Believe. Really? It was an urging to have self-confidence, hardly something you would have to invoke in a more sophisticated city that had its shit together.  Nonetheless, this whole idea of believing was not being bolstered at all by the city’s beleaguered baseball team. The football team—the Ravens—won the Superbowl in 2001 and have had winning seasons. (The history of football in this town is a whole other story rife with emotion.)  If football, with its 16 game season is a sprint, then baseball, with its 162 game season is a marathon.  To be a true baseball fan from beginning to end, patience is required.  I had just added in the carbo-loading for my own benefit.

On Opening Day, in April, the fans believe. They really do. This will be the year, they tell themselves. Until it becomes exceedingly clear that it’s not. How many games it may take for this precipitous decline varies from year to year.

But this year, our egos and the overall fan psyche never got deflated.  Almost all the way through (and now, still, with just two more games remaining in the regular season and at minimum a wild card berth guaranteed), I’m hesitant to say too much, not wanting to disturb the baseball gods in any way. Every win is hard-earned and meaningful.  We’ve come this far (all of us—we’re in it together) and who knows what’s up ahead. I can feel the tears of joy bottling up behind my eyeballs.  If I could, I would wrap my arms around Buck Showalter, the O’s stalwart manager who created a team that lives up to the adage that there is no “i” in “team”.  Showalter gets it. He really gets how much this team means to the city. He gets the sense of nostalgia and the pride for this small market baseball team that once held court over all of the others, but then felt the humility of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

He’s not from here and neither am I—but our hearts have been captured by Baltimore—this once elite city that now is so often associated with the unsavory parts of the city publicized in Homicide and The Wire. I’ve lived here now for over a decade and I remember at first feeling slightly apologetic when telling others from far and wide how much I love this town. Even those who were from here would look at me a little funny as if to say, “you do?”  Yes. I do. I love this town and its ball club whether it’s winning or losing. If you go to Camden Yards right now, you’ll see the larger-than-life statues of the Orioles greats: Brooks, Frank, Earl, Jim, Eddie, and Cal. Each statue was unveiled in a ceremony to honor the individual it represented in this 20th anniversary year of Oriole Park at Camden Yards—winners who can still feel the appreciation of fans young and old. Whether it was long ago or in the recent past (and hopefully as we head into the future), I get the sense that winning is something that Baltimore doesn’t take for granted.  

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