When the Orioles clinched a playoff berth, Bryan Coleman immediately texted his childhood friend, Greg Finkelstein.

"You've got to get up to Atlanta and drive me to Baltimore for the playoffs," Coleman wrote.

Finkelstein, who lives in Orlando, Fla., called his buddy the next morning and said, "Let's go."

The men grew up in Baltimore as devoted fans of the Orioles who made it to the 1979 World Series and won it all in 1983. Both left the city years ago, but they held out hope that one day, they'd be able to return for a playoff game.

So they spent last week scrounging up tickets and flights, and on Sunday, they entered Camden Yards with Finkelstein's 11-year-old son, Eli, and Coleman's sister, Lisa Frank, in tow.

"It gives me chills, man," Coleman said, surveying the park from beside the bronze statue of Cal Ripken Jr. in center field.

"I'm misty," said Finkelstein.

He was referring to his emotions, not the light rain that began to fall about an hour before game time.

"There is no weather," Finkelstein said, his joy too great for the drops to perturb him.

Eli has grown up 900 miles away, rooting for a losing team he inherited from his dad. At his first Orioles playoff game, he mugged gleefully for a photo beside the Ripken statue.

"I've always been a great Orioles fan," he said. "But when they'd get 40 games below .500 or something, it was hard to keep track. This year, I was up every morning, looking at the box score, saying, 'Did they win?'"

He was so optimistic, he bet his cousins in June that his Orioles would finish with a better record than the teams in their home cities. The loser would have to wear a humiliating outfit and dance for the family at Thanksgiving. With the Orioles in the playoffs, Eli is safe from torment.

The Matthews family of Greensboro, N.C., usually catches the Orioles on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. But when the team won in Texas on Friday night, they immediately jumped on the ticket resale web site StubHub and purchased seats for Sunday's game. They made the five-hour drive in the morning and planned to leave immediately after the game so they'd be home in time for work Monday.

"When they made the playoffs, we said, 'We're going,'" said Steve Matthews, who grew up in Bel Air and passed his Orioles love to his sons. "I felt like I would eventually see this day, especially the way this year developed."

The family traveled in mixed company, with pal and Yankees fan Sarah Turner along for the trip.

"Unfortunately, we had to bring her along," joked Holly Matthews, who married into the family of Orioles fans. "She might have to find her own way back."

"My boyfriend here is giving me a hard time," said Turner, sporting Yankees pinstripes. "But I think I'll be fine."

Holly Matthews agreed. "People here are nice," she said. "It's not like we're in Philly."

Steve Matthews wants the Orioles to go as far as possible, but this season has already rewarded him for years of supporting losing teams.

"For so long, they were considered the class organization of baseball," he said. "It really hurt when they weren't, when they were more of a laughingstock. But they're getting back there, and it feels good."



Baltimore Sun reporter Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts