I was finishing seventh grade in the spring of 1989 when Mr. Legg, my English teacher, gave us an interesting assignment. Take an article from the daily newspaper, he said, and spin a short story off of it.

OK, well, the sports section was the beginning and end of the paper for me in those days. And on that very morning, The Sun published an account of the Orioles' remarkable Opening Day victory over Boston. Inspired by that great win, I wove an improbable scenario of the scrappy young team rising from the ashes of a 107-loss season and rolling all the way to the playoffs. I was already a grizzled enough fan to realize it was little more than a kid's fantasy. But hey, I had fun writing it and got an A.

Then, the damnedest thing happened. My fanciful scenario almost came to pass.


No matter how long I live, I'm not sure a baseball season could pass 1989 as my favorite. I had learned to love the game during the Orioles' 1983 championship run. But success seemed more of a given back then. By 1989, it was the last thing anyone expected. Between the 21-game losing streak to begin 1988, the firing of Cal Ripken Sr. and the trade of a disgruntled Eddie Murray, the last sparks of Orioles magic seemed to be flickering out.

Expectations could not have been lower. But then, just as thoroughly as everything had gone wrong, all went right. Young outfielders made wreckless, wonderful catches. Starting pitchers with little pedigree and less stuff reeled off wins. An unheralded catcher discovered Fruit Loops and replaced Murray's switch-hitting thump in the line-up. A rookie closer unleashed one of the nastiest curves the game had ever seen. Every week, they seemed to find a less probable way to win.

The Orioles, a near-unanimous pick for last, led the American League East all summer. It didn't matter that their "Why Not" dream ended in Toronto on the penultimate day of the season. We still gave them a parade on Monday. It was that kind of year.

So whenever I hear that Opening Day represents the infinity of possibility an d my inherent cynicism starts to rise, I think of 1989. That season taught me that hope in baseball is not bunk, no matter how lousy your team looks on paper.

Remember that 1989 opener folks. Rookie Steve Finley set the tone early, running at full speed to snare a long fly, paying no heed to the wall that would jar his shoulder out of place on impact. Then Cal Ripken, the lone old standby, tomahawked a high Roger Clemens fastball over the left field wall to erase Boston's 4-1 lead. In the 11th, Mickey Tettleton walked, Randy Milligan singled and Craig Worthington looped a blooper to left that scored Tettleton. Three new heroes + one patched-together rally provided an unexpectedly perfect introduction to the season.

The spectacular moments just unspooled from there.

I'll never forget Gregg Olson making Oakland sluggers Dave Parker and Dave Henderson flail like drunken hippos at his curve and then buckling Mark McGwire's knees with it. I'll never forget the Fruit Loops cheers as Tettleton flirted with the AL home-run lead. I'll never forget that crazy July game against the Angels, when the Orioles rallied from 7-3 down to tie it 9-9 in the ninth and then win it when Mike Deveraux tucked a home run inside the left-field pole.

I'll never forget Dave Johnson emerging from Middle River obscurity to win games with junior college stuff. I'll never forget Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki winning over and over down the stretch--true aces for the only time in their careers. I'll never forget Tim Hulett's clutch hits or Frank Robinson's reassuring stoicism in the dugout. I'll never forget how the O's and Blue Jays always seemed to win and lose on the same days as the pennant race wound down. I'll never forget how my hopes surged when Phil Bradley homered on the first pitch of the last Toronto series or how they fell when an Olson curveball skittered away to allow the tying run.

I'll never forget the sweet sadness of watching another lead trickle away the next day or the hope I felt when No. 1 overall pick Ben McDonald finished the season with a win.

I recently watched my 1989 highlight tape (a must-have for the Super Fresh ad featuring Dave Johnson and Kevin Hickey alone) and it all flooded over me like I was 12 years old again.

I'm not bringing all of this up on Opening Day to suggest that the 2009 Orioles will follow the same path. Despite some common elements (good collection of young talent, great outfield defense, seemingly slipshod pitching), we know such things are improbable. Even if they defied all the odds and won 87 games, they'd probably finish 10 games out of first.

But I am saying that there's value in going out to the first game of the season and dreaming about what could follow. Hopeful endeavors make this life worth living. And well, you never know...