As the lyrics of everyone's favorite baseball anthem suggest, being a sports fan is really all about rooting for the home team. But what exactly does that mean when you live in a new town that is gradually becoming your home?
When is it OK to pick up a new hometown team?
As the Orioles have defied most odds this season and swept the city into an orange frenzy en route to an American League East title, I've been pondering these questions a lot. And there's one factor that truly complicates things.
I am a Cleveland fan.
I am, in all senses, proudly a part of the most tragic fan base in professional sports. I have grown up watching comically bad baseball, football and basketball teams, as well as talented teams that fill you with hope before imploding in the most dramatic of fashions.
And now I live in the home of the Ravens — the team that was so cruelly snatched from Cleveland, leaving a good chunk of my childhood NFL-less. When I first moved to Baltimore, my Cleveland-born family members had just one request: "Do not become a Ravens fan."
Just to assure my dad and the spirit of my late grandfather — don't worry. I will never, ever become a Ravens fan. But I have fallen for these magical O's.
As I just mentioned, I know what it's like to cheer for a historically bad team. And I think that's what makes these Orioles so easy for me to love. Seeing a hodgepodge group rebound from injuries and suspensions to reward a weary fan base for years of dedication tugs at my cursed Cleveland heart.
Plus, no matter how weird it may still sound, I'm a Baltimorean now. I'm not just temporarily away from home for college anymore. So while my bloodline doesn't run orange through generations, there's a nice sense of camaraderie in celebrating with my new city. (I realize this also could theoretically apply to the Ravens, but that would be like a Ravens fan liking the Indianapolis Colts. It's just against my genetic code.)
However, I still have trouble fully identifying as an Orioles fan. It doesn't feel completely real yet, nor does saying I'm from Baltimore. Just like pretty much all aspects of my life at this stage, my sense of home feels in limbo.
It's just another element of entering the "adult" world, whether you've moved far away or still live with your parents. There comes a time, after the dust of graduation has settled, when you realize you're becoming increasingly independent from the world you grew up in.
But that doesn't mean that world doesn't matter. So much of who I am, sports allegiances included, is based on my experiences growing up in Ohio. I can hold on to that while also being shaped by my time in Baltimore, however long it may be. I can cheer for the Orioles all season long, but still dutifully wear my Indians hat when they come to Camden Yards.
My baseball allegiances may pose a bigger conflict down the line, but I know I felt like a legitimate Orioles fan when my roommates and I went to see them play the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 16. These four Baltimore transplants — only one of us is even from Maryland — were there as the Orioles won, 8-2, to clinch their first division title since 1997.
I know I may not truly appreciate the history behind that moment, but it meant something nonetheless. The city was celebrating, and I am now a part of that city.
Just don't expect me to ever be excited about a Ravens win.
Ellen Fishel's column will appear regularly in b.