Her favorite baby bottle bore an Orioles logo. Her most beloved childhood memories involve listening to the radio play-by-play as Mike Mussina pitched. And when Aili Sarapik, then 6, attended an event in honor of Cal Ripken in 1995, the Oriole great looked right at her during his speech.
"I was over the moon," she said.
Sarapik, 25, now lives in Tartu, Estonia, 4,300 miles to the east, but her love for the O's hasn't faded. She'll be watching live on her laptop when her team takes the field against the Kansas City Royals in Game Four of the American League Championship Series.
Sarapik, a college student, is one of the thousands of Oriole rooters around the world following every pitch, swing and diving catch as their heroes try to keep their 2014 season alive. Having lost the first two at home to the red-hot Royals and Game 3 Tuesday in Kansas City, manager Buck Showalter's team faces long odds, but fans in places as far away as Australia, Israel and Uganda — and even in outer space — are keeping the faith.
"I grew up with Oriole magic, and I became cynical in the lean years, but if any team can make [this] comeback, it's these guys," said Dean Burnett, a native of Springfield, Va., who lives on Oahu, Hawaii, and catches games via Internet livestream and sometimes satellite TV.
"My head says this Royals team looks like the baseball gods are on its side, but my heart says they're going to find a way to get past KC and that there will be no stopping them then," said Tom Mudd, 51, a Towson native who lives in Haywards Heath, England.
"We won't stop!" wrote Kattie Jones, 17, in a Twitter message from her native Taiwan.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Reid Wiseman, an astronaut who grew up in Cockeysville, even tweeted a picture of himself in an Orioles jersey on the International Space Station as the team began its playoff run two weeks ago.
New communications technologies, of course, have made it possible for fans to follow their favorite teams from thousands of miles and many time zones away.
The last time the Orioles made the World Series, in 1983, global fans had little choice but to look up scores in USA Today or the International Herald Tribune a day or two after the fact. Today they can listen live on Internet radio, watch online box scores unfold pitch by pitch, catch games streaming live via MLB.TV, and more.
Bert Williams, a Christian missionary in Uganda who spent several years in Baltimore, follows the team via Twitter; the night they pummeled the Tigers, 12-3, in the ALDS, he was listening on Internet radio at 4:30 a.m. in Kampala.
Xavier Gleeson of Melbourne, Australia, learned about baseball and the O's from his father, who served with Americans in Vietnam. He said via email that he listens or watches live on his iPhone or iPad using the MLB app.
"I usually stream the games and have them playing in the background while I work away — [though] there are times when I'm listening it's best I don't have a hammer in my hand," quipped the Aussie construction worker, 35, who attached a picture of himself modeling his scraggly "playoff beard."
In taking the pulse of O's fans worldwide, The Sun heard from followers in 10 nations, three states and two territories across six continents, and one fact stands out: When a Kansas City hurler, probably James Shields, fires the first pitch at 4:07 p.m. Wednesday, a global community will come to life.
In Singapore, the sun will be rising Thursday for O's diehard Michael S. Smith, 51, a native of Govans. In Melbourne, 14 hours ahead of Kansas City, Gleeson will just be arriving for work.
In the Cayman Islands, it will be dinnertime when Baltimore-born Robyn Larkin, 38, tunes in to WBAL on the Internet. It will be just after 10 p.m. when Mudd, an online editor with the Wall Street Journal, tunes in at his home near London and when Telmo Pereira, 32, hoists a gametime Radeberger brew in Dresden, Germany.
And it will be 1:30 a.m. in Afghanistan when Staff Sgt. Adrienne Toliver and SPC Daneaa Natt, soldiers with the Maryland Army National Guard, catch the livestream on the Armed Forces Network at their military base.
Why do they follow the team, even in a war zone? "They are playing to win," Toliver said.
For the typical night game, Pereira, who works in IT, goes to bed at 8, sets his alarm for 2 a.m., and watches his adopted heroes, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, until the sun comes up.
"After the game I just go take a shower, eat my breakfast and go to work, and my bosses say, 'Hey Telmo, you look tired, did you watch baseball all night again last night?'" said Pereira, a Portuguese expatriate, in an email. "They think I'm crazy. Most of my friends think baseball is a boring sport."
Overseas fans disagree, especially this year.
Like their cousins in Charm City, many fell in love with the team not so much because it dominated the competition on the field but because, one way or another, some personal experience won their affection.
Teenager Jones might never have become a fan had the Orioles not signed her fellow Taiwanese, Wei-Yin Chen, to a contract in 2012. A year later, she met the lefty pitcher near her home as he signed copies of his book, "Will Win, Chen," then took 100 fans to the movies.
"Good man," said Jones, who admitted to finding the 16-game winner — and several of his teammates — "adorable" even as she admires the club's determination to "stay hungry."
Adam Rickwood of Burnley, England, 24, was traveling in the United States five years ago when he decided to visit the hometown of the crime drama "The Wire." He caught a game at Camden Yards and got a whole different view of the city.
The O's lost to the Angels, but "everybody I encountered that day, the people selling tickets, the grounds crew, the security, the fans in the club store and the fans in my section were simply delightful, each helping me in a wonderfully unique way," wrote Rickwood, who learned the game, became a die-hard O's fan, and watches about 120 games a year on MLB.TV.
And 10,000 miles away from the Yards, Daniel Clark was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1985. He fell in love with baseball watching Australian professional league games. When he decided to play himself — he is a base-stealing center fielder — the club he joined was called the Blackburn Orioles.
Now 29, he follows the big-league team via the Internet, writes a weekly baseball column for MASN, and plans to bring his fiancee to Baltimore during their honeymoon next March, where they hope to see his favorite team play Toronto.
Clark has connected with 17 other O's fans in the state of Victoria via Twitter.
"When, not if, the O's make the World Series, a few of us are planning to head to a pub in Melbourne to watch," he wrote in an email.
It can feel lonesome — even a little weird — being an Oriole fan where there's little baseball history.
Few overseas fans hesitate to wear their black and orange — Gleeson said he'd wear his "old, sweaty O's hat to bed if it didn't hurt when I rolled over" — but Oriole gear can draw less than supportive reactions.
Craig Beatty, 33, a Christian missionary in Puerto Rico, said many people he knows in San Juan have some tie to New York, and when he wears his O's T-shirts, he gets a face full of Yankee aggression.
"I just smile proudly," he wrote.
Mudd said his collection of shirts and hats gets little rise out of his fellow Brits.
"I catch people looking at them, but they generally don't show much of a reaction. One supermarket checkout guy did see my 'Hakuna Machado' shirt and ask me what it was all about. He just looked confused after I explained," Mudd said.
And Baltimore native and O's fan Josh Sherman, 22, on a kibbutz in Jaffa, Israel, this year, doesn't mind that his O's gear raises few eyebrows. He's on the hunt for an ensemble topper.
"I think an Orioles yarmulke would be a great addition to my wardrobe," he said.
Wiseman, the astronaut, couldn't be reached for comment, but here on Earth, Baltimore's far-flung fans seem to agree that this year's players, perhaps more than others in the past, enjoy one another's company, play like a team and show few traces of the kind of baseball egotism that can prevail in rival cities like New York and Boston.
The formula has spread Oriole Magic worldwide, whether it carries them to the World Series or not.
"The boys need to rally and Buck's gotta do his thing," said Sarapik, a student at the Estonian University of Life Sciences in Tartu. "I don't want to jinx them, but I know they have it in them to turn [the series] around. If nothing else, let's not go down without a hell of a fight!"