7:35 PM EDT, July 15, 2013
Most anything a person needs to know about life can be learned from a seat at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. For most of the last decade and a half, the typical Baltimore baseball fan could have a received a master's degree in how to survive loss, disappointment, misery and bad luck.
Fortunately, the most recent classes have been far more cheery with last year's final outcome, an unexpected wild-card berth that was a truly pew-packing tribute to the power of prayer and Buck Showalter. This season's team is proving something else altogether — that Baltimore is the place to reinvent oneself.
The Orioles are sending no fewer than five players to Tuesday's All-Star Game, three of them voted in as starters. That's the most Baltimore has sent to the Midsummer Classic since 1997 and is more typical of the franchise's glory days of 1969-1972.
One could make a good argument that they deserved more. In addition to Chris Tillman, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado, the American League squad ought to have included Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who has 33 saves, the most in Major League Baseball. Hard-core fans can also make a case for right fielder Nick Markakis, who finished fourth in the fan vote to fill the three outfield positions.
But what's remarkable about this lineup is that with the exception of Mr. Machado, none were drafted by the Orioles. They are all players who were traded to Baltimore from elsewhere, their teams apparently confident that an All-Star appearance was not in their future.
What of slugger "Crush" Davis who now leads all of baseball with 37 home runs and is on pace for 62 this season (and a place in the history books as potentially the only man to break Roger Maris' 61 without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs)? The Texas Rangers were happy to unload him for relief pitching.
Shortstop Hardy had a reputation for frequent injury when he was sent to the O's from the Twins. Center fielder Jones and starting pitcher Tillman, a last-minute All-Star who was selected Sunday to replace Detroit's Justin Verlander, came from Seattle when the Orioles traded away pitcher Erik Bedard. In two seasons with Seattle, Mr. Jones hit three homers. For the O's, he's on pace for more than 30 (again) and his first 100-RBI season.
Certainly, former General Manager Andy MacPhail deserves some credit for making these trades and the Orioles coaching staff for getting the best out of the players who struggled, to varying extents, elsewhere. But might it also say something about Baltimore, its ballpark, fan base, perhaps even the town itself?
The Orioles were five games above .500 at the All-Star break last year and are 10 games above it now. Yes, there are questions about the quality of their starting pitching, and the Red Sox have a hold on first place in the division (for now), but it's easy to be optimistic about what might happen between now and October.
Last year might have seemed a bit of a fluke. The team's playoff appearance turned on its remarkable proclivity for winning one-run ballgames. That's no longer the case, not with the kind of All-Star hitters and Gold Glove fielders in this lineup.
Drafting and developing great players may be at the heart of professional sports — the world-champion Ravens have demonstrated that often enough — but there's something to be said about building a team through trades as well. It's like winning a game of gin rummy. The Orioles saw the value of cards that were cast-offs to others.
Baltimore isn't the biggest city in America. It isn't the richest, the most photographed, the most visited or, sadly, the safest. But it is a place of tremendous civic pride and respect for hard work, a community that understands late-bloomers and misfits, that loves those who take the field with a bit of a chip on the shoulder.
In 2013, it's also a city of All-Stars, the envy of the baseball world. Let others learn a lesson from what many of us already knew from hours spent happily on the green seats of Camden Yards: The best days of Baltimore are still ahead.
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