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Phils' lesson for Orioles fans: There's hope but it takes time

Long-suffering fans.

That label could have been created for the oft-disappointed followers of the Philadelphia Phillies, the newly-minted National League champions.

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Of course, locally – that also happen to be the unfortunate station of Baltimore Orioles fans. Long-suffering.

The Phillies may be the losingest franchise in all pro sports but Orioles fans are currently living through the sports hades of 11 straight seasons of sub-.500 baseball.

The happy lesson being shared this baseball post-season by the Phillies (and the Tampa Bay Rays who are one win away from joining Philadelphia in the World Series) is both instructional and obvious.

Both teams have been assembled with homegrown talent. When the Phils beat the Dodgers last night for the NL pennant, four key position players in the lineup were from Philadelphia's farm system. The starter and middle relief pitcher were as well. Still another starter is homegrown.

And while the Tampa Bay success has been startling -- a worst-to-first fairy tale – the Phillies strategy has produced long term success. Philadelphia has had winning records in seven of the last eight years. This is the Phillies second straight season in the playoffs.

The good news for Orioles fans is that Baltimore seems committed to the same sort of strategy of building from within. The sobering news is that it takes time. In the Phillies case, the farm stars were all drafted at least six years ago (pitching ace Cole Hamels in 2002). Ryan Howard was drafted in '01, Chase Utley in '00, Brett Myers in '99, Pat Burrell and Ryan Madson in '98 and Jimmy Rollins in '96.

Of course, Baltimore fans would prefer the more immediate Tampa Bay-type of turnaround that Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine have produced for the Rays. But even in Tampa Bay, it took a few years for some of those current star players to mature.

The point, I suppose, is that it can be done. And when it is done this way, through farm talent, the results can be lasting. In the case of the Phillies, before their gradual ascent started in 2001, they had suffered seven straight losing seasons. In fact, with the notable exception of a World Series appearance in 1993, the Phils were losers in 13 of 14 seasons from 1987 through 2000. For the most part, it was a drought not unlike the one here.

But for most of the current decade, the Phils have at least been in the hunt come September and it has been largely because of the farm system. Hopefully, some day Orioles fans can say the same.

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