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Once again, we dip into the mailbag and try to address a few readers' concerns. As you'll soon see, no question is too absurd to be answered, so fire away. As of this posting, the Orioles are winners of five straight games (start printing playoff tickets!), so if you'd like to rub that factoid in my face, you'd better do it quickly before it all unravels. E-mail me at: kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com  

Here's the first question that needs to be addressed in the mailbag: How come Ethan, the dude from "Lost," works for The Sun and is pretending to be Kevin Van Valkenburg?  You're crafty, so I don't know why you would allow your picture to be taken and then try to pawn yourself off as Kevin Van Valkenburg.  But you're busted.  This needs clarification before any other question is answered.

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"J", College Park

Clearly, I faked my own death when Charlie shot me after I tried to steal Claire's baby. It's obvious that infiltrating the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 wasn't as important to the Dharma Initiative as infiltrating the offices of The Sun so that I could make wisecracks about the state of the baseball team, so here I am. Now that you found out I'm not really a Sun staffer, just like Hurley found out I wasn't on the flight manifest, you'd better hope Mike Preston and Peter Schmuck can take me out before I start causing trouble. They're really the Sawyer and Jack of this joint. I guess that makes Maese our Charlie, minus the heroin addiction. I think.

(Seriously though, it's weird. I do look a little like evil Ethan Rom. Especially in my mug shot.)

Dear Kevin,

I'm still bitter about the Colts leaving Baltimore. The Ravens' Super Bowl win meant so much to the city and fans. My father, who was a Baltimore Colts fan and went to the 1958 game, was able to see the Ravens win a Super Bowl. Let's face it, that win meant so much to a generation who still loved football but had no team for many years. The fact remains Ray Lewis led that team. He is the face of the franchise and I say pay the man.  

Gene, San Diego

Gene, it's interesting that you bring up your dad and the '58 championship against the Giants. Last year, I did a story about the five-year anniversary of Johnny Unitas' death, and I talked to some of his kids about what they remembered about his career, and what they thought about the NFL these days. One of Unitas' sons, Bobby, said he couldn't believe what prima donnas players today were. He felt like huge signing bonuses had ruined the game compared to the way it was when his dad played. Obviously times have changed, but one thing to keep in mind is that the NFL has always been this way. Unitas' older kids had to watch him finish his career as a Charger. There was no golden parachute for him when his career was winding down. Very few players take the Brett Favre path and retire with the team that made them famous. Even fewer defensive players do it. Ray has been incredibly important to football's rebirth in this city, but I'm not sure what the reward should be for that. It's a touchy subject, but one that every NFL franchise deals with.

Dear Kevin: 

The losing didn't cause me to abandon the O's, I gave up when Peter Angelos' ego forced out Davey Johnson.  I have not paid for any game at Camden Yards since that time.  I buy tickets to the Bowie Baysox.  I even gave up watching Peter's O's on TV until former Baysox players were being brought to the majors.  I go back to the first night game at Memorial Stadium in April 1954 and the first Saturday game there also in April 1954.  I hope MacPhail can get the team back to its winning ways, but making the playoffs will be hard when the Yankees can spend over $200 million a season.  Best wishes for positive changes to the O's.

Ron Shapiro, Severna Park

Hard to believe that Johnson is the last Orioles manager to lead the team to a winning season, isn't it? I thought Dan Connolly made an excellent point in his weekly column last week about the Orioles reluctance, at least in the past, to sink much of an investment into their global scouting. I saw it first hand a few years ago when I went to the Dominican Republic to write a story about Sammy Sosa after the Orioles traded for him. Supposedly things are getting better under MacPhail, but at the time, the Orioles were one of one a few teams that did not have a real baseball academy in the DR. It was ridiculous. Their scouts were being asked to compete against teams that actually had real facilities, while most of what they had was subpar at best. The team (Angelos actually) said in February of 2004 that they were investing $2 million in a new facility in San Pedro de Macoris that included three new fields and a place for players to eat and sleep in safety. I was there more than a year later. Nothing had changed. That was three years ago. I honestly don't know if it's changed since then. If it has, I'd be happy to point it out. So if anyone from the Orioles is reading this, feel free to tell me about the progress that's been made in the DR. Because I've heard the "we're making progress" stuff before. Right now, in the DR, the next Manny Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez or David Ortiz is 13 years old. Think the Orioles will discover him when other teams have more scouts and better resources to look for the same thing?

(This next question, I stole from the comment section of a story about Frederick radio dropping Orioles coverage this year. Thought both points, John's and mine, were worth sharing.) 

The Orioles are a losing team. They've been mismanaged at times over the course of the last decade, certainly. Those two things don't make them all that different from a lot of different franchises in professional sports, though, and the majority of franchises have gone through spells like that at one point or another in their history. But a real fan doesn't abandon his or her team. That's the bottom line.

If Frederick fans truly don't want to listen to the team on the radio, that's a reflection on them, not the team. It means they're fair weather fans. If the fans in Frederick do want to listen to the team and this radio station won't provide that service, it's a reflection on the radio station -- and they ought to free up the rights so another station can broadcast the games.

I find this really sad. I find the crowds at Camden Yards lately really sad. I'm not calling anyone out, ultimately baseball is a hobby, and that means people should only watch, listen, or attend the games if they enjoy doing it. It's not a responsibility or a necessity. People can make a choice to be fair weather fans. But if they refuse to even watch their team on television or listen on the radio -- ever -- *for free* -- than they're not die-hards, not even remotely so. There's nothing wrong with being a fair weather fan, but that's what some of those folks are. I'm not talking about the people who only watch or listen to a game or two a week -- I'm talking about the ones who have completely given up just because the team isn't doing so hot lately (Well, it looked pretty hot today, but over the course of the last 10 years).

I thought Orioles fans were a bit more fanatical than that. What happened to the folks who packed Memorial Stadium in '88 to welcome back an 0-21 team?

I hope we have a team in 20 years. I hate to raise that specter, but lots of folks thought they could never take the Colts away from Baltimore, and they did.

-John

John, I really admire your passion and your willingness to share it in a post, but let me make two points:

1. I think a lot of "die-hard" Orioles fans have been supporting the team for the last 10 years, but they've also realized something: What is the incentive for the team to get better if people keep showing up at the park, watching games on television, and buying merchandise? You conceded that the team has been mismanaged. Well, it's been 10 years. What is the incentive to change as long as the product is profitable? I do believe that Peter Angelos wants to win, if for no other reason than pride, but I think having only 10,000 people come to the park might help force the issue even further. I would argue that some people who refuse to attend games can still be die-hard fans. They're just refusing to financially support a product that's been so poorly run, and doing it with the hope that it will help bring about change. It's one thing to support a college program through thick and thin. But professional sports are a business. The paying customer needs to get some entertainment value for his or her dollar, or they're under no civic obligation to cough it up.

2. It's unfair, I think, to use what happened with the Colts as a scare tactic in regards to Orioles' fan support. What the NFL allowed Bob Irsay to do was a disgrace. He was rewarded for essentially ruining one of the league's flagship franchises, and that should never be forgotten. But it wasn't the fault of the fans. You know that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams keeps telling Matt Damon, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault..." I feel like Robin Williams sometimes when I'm talking about this. The Orioles have a great ballpark and a great fanbase, but a fanbase that is getting fed up. Hopefully they're getting better so that more people will show up to Camden Yards. (Don't look now, but the team is in first place!) But it shouldn't be the reverse: more people show up and the team gets better. The Orioles problems run deeper than "there aren't enough people to get the team fired up by singing "Cotton Eye Joe" during the seventh inning."


I'm tired of hearing excuses about Maryland basketball. Look at Dean Smith and other coaches who have retired. It's time for Gary Williams to hang it up. Like I have said over and over, the yelling on the side is getting old and some very talented players that have come to Maryland probably could have done much better elsewhere. On the other hand you can't ignore what Gary has done for Maryland, awesome job, but he has to be smart enough to know when it's time.

Thanks.

-Wayne.

Wayne, I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think that it's Gary stepping down. How can anyone ask him to do that after he built the program, brick by brick, screen by screen, rebound by rebound, from where it was 20 years ago? Four so-so seasons does not a career make. What is troubling, I think, is that if Maryland isn't having as much success on the basketball court, they at least need to start graduating players at a higher rate. They're not recruiting the one-and-done players right now. Why then is their graduation rate so low? Gary, or his assistants, can't physically walk kids to class and look over their shoulder while they do their homework. And at some point, they have to grow up and be men on their own. But it was pretty embarrassing for Chris McCray to be declared academically ineligible for the last semester of his senior year. I conceded it's an almost impossible balance to strike, academics vs. on-court success, but right now Maryland doesn't look stellar in either.


RE: Hottest Tennis Wives and Girlfriends...

Is there any editorial oversight on blogs? Because if any editor or copy editor had given this entry even a cursory glance, I think it would have been spiked on grounds of extreme offensiveness.

Maybe the blogger should try to get a job blogging for Maxim or Stuff to reach the frat-boy audience that he seems to be targeting.

-Jackie Frank
 

Jackie, rest assured, I think I'd rather take a Daniel Cabrera fastball to the kidneys than work for Maxim. I mean, can you imagine trying to come up with "10 different ways you can shave and butter your chest" like EVERY MONTH? That's too much pressure. (Unless, you know, it paid really well.) Sadly, an editor did give that Tennis Wives and Girlfriends entry a cursory glance. He felt I ranked Brooklyn Decker far too low. I asked my wife if she wanted to write the rebuttal, because she thinks Tim Riggins on FNL is dreamy, and she scowled and said, "I'd rather you put the computer down and finish washing the dishes."

 

In closing, my colleague, Ray Frager, the man behind The Sun's excellent sports media blog, Medium Well, was kind enough to bring my attention to a Mencken sports quote I had read many years ago but wiped from my memory (probably with the help of alcohol), since this blog is named after one of Mencken's most famous journalism quips.

"I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense."

I refuse to believe he was talking about Orioles fans. That's just too cruel.

 

Want to tell The Life of Kings what an idiot he is? Email us!

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

 

 

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