11:14 AM EDT, October 4, 2012
If you're a Major League Baseball fan, you probably think you're dreaming right about now. And you don't want to ever wake up.
To the north, the Baltimore Orioles have clinched an unforeseen, almost unimaginable playoff spot after 14 straight losing seasons, including the most recent four in last place.
To the south, the Washington Nationals also have secured a place in the postseason, their first since moving to the nation's capital in 2005 (their first winning season, actually) and the first post-season appearance by a Washington baseball team since 1933.
Talk about ending a Great Depression. It's a world gone mad.
And, the sporting world has taken notice. The Oct. 1 regional cover of Sports Illustrated features a photo of a trio of Orioles leaping for joy in a post-game celebration. The cover headline declares the Baltimore-Washington region "The Unlikely Sports Capital," and inside is one article on the Orioles and another on the Nationals (specifically, Manager Davey Johnson).
For another measure of excitement and renewed interest in two long-downtrodden franchises, consider that sales of team apparel, an accurate barometer of a team's popularity, is up 205 percent for the Nationals in the most recent four-week period and up a whopping 266 percent for the Orioles, according to SportsOneSource, a sporting goods research firm. Although other big-market teams (think New York Yankees, if you must) still claim a higher percentage of the market, no other major league baseball team has enjoyed a bigger increase in September, according to Barry Gauthier, vice president for business development of SportsOneSource. "They're the two biggest ones," he said.
This could all end tomorrow, of course, or at least in a few days, when the playoffs begin and anything can happen. Don't forget that last year, for example, the Philadelphia Phillies won more regular season games than any team in the majors but were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. So it goes in baseball.
So enjoy it while you can. Relish the prospect of an I-95 World Series. Wear your orange baseball caps to bed, your red Nationals T-shirts to work. Educate your office mates who are O's fans on their foolish ways. Tell your office mates who are National fans they have rocks in their heads. Do whatever you need to do to enjoy this freakish, serendipitous convergence of good fortune, good times and, most surprisingly, very good baseball.