For Christmas in 2004, my wife and I received an Orioles 50th-anniversary bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine. "When should we open it?" my wife asked. Without much thought I replied, "Why don't we drink it the next time the Orioles make the playoffs?"
It had been seven years since 1997's wire-to-wire play-off appearance, but that fond memory still resonated.
For eight more years that bottle languished in our wine cooler. Season after season, it has been a cold sentry, rarely seeing the light of day.
Oh, there have been years when the Orioles teased us with good play during the first half, only to fall victim to the summer swoon. As season ticket holders, my wife and two sons, now 10 and 13, dutifully trekked to the ballpark, where the boys enjoyed the food and atmosphere of Camden Yards. But one thing was always missing: Winning baseball.
Not this year, however. At the season's onset, the consensus among baseball analysts was for a last-place finish. Kudos to Dan Duquette and his predecessor, Andy McPhail, who have assembled a gritty group of rookies and veterans. With less than half the payroll, this ball club has stood toe to toe with the New York Yankees.
Led by Manager of the Year candidate Buck Showalter, the 2012 Orioles team is truly greater than the sum of its parts. How else to explain so many scintillating one-run victories? The odds-defying streak of consecutive extra-innings wins?
Baltimore has embraced these Orioles defined by their tenacity and resiliency. We've relished every Adam Jones' shaving-cream pie, thrust lustily in the face of that day's clutch performer.
Like that long unopened bottle of wine, who knows what the playoffs will bring? Will it be a brief, bitter disappointment? Or will it be something to savor, made richer by patience and the passage of time?
One thing is certain: I will enjoy finally uncorking that bottle.
Eugene Wu, Sparks