As Orioles fight to be No. 1 and honor No. 8, we're on cloud 9

I died and went to heaven.

No wait, it's just Camden Yards, easily mistaken Thursday night as the place where all good Orioles fans who have spent the last 15 years in purgatory go to get their just rewards.

The O's were not just back in town, they were back in the chase. Against none other than the Yankees. In a nearly full house that was swathed largely in orange and not the blue pinstripes of fans who had usurped our park as their sixth borough.

Someone pinch me.

No, don't. I want to live this dream a little longer — like, October.

Thursday night at the yard felt like the first day on a ship, before you get your sea legs. Fans seemed like they were still trying to adjust to the ground rolling beneath us.

"The last couple years, I was hoping, pretty much, .500. Just not last place," Richard Stotler, 37, told me. "Now, hey, first place!"

Stotler, an electrician from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and a lifelong O's fan, brought his 11-year-old, J.J. Hardy-loving son Andrew to the game — and to enjoy the first winning O's season of his young life.

Like many in the crowd, they would have come anyway, this being the night that Cal Ripken Jr.'s statue was unveiled, on the 17th anniversary of his surpassing Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak.

But what would have been simply a night of nostalgia — a warm and wonderful one, no doubt — was turned electric by falling in the middle of a fight for the division title, with the two leading combatants battling it out right there on Eutaw Street.

The O's have a glorious past, Cal's presence reminded us, but they have a pretty darn good present as well.

"I watched him grow up," Denise Custishelem said fondly. Like Cal, a proud Aberdeen-er, she was at the park as she often is whenever the travel she does as a merchandise displayer matches up with the home schedule.

While she is a lifer when it comes to the O's, winning is a habit she can relearn. And none of this playing for the wild card.

"Oh, no, we want the division," said Custishelem, who gave her age as "almost 60." "It's time. They have been wild-carding and almost there for so many years, it's their time. It's our time."

Her only problem now is a fashion one, having heard that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had declared Friday "Orange Friday." With Legg Mason lighting its headquarters in orange Thursday, the mayor urged other buildings to similarly add that spray-tan glow — promising City Hall and, next week, the Washington Monument will be lit accordingly.

"But it's Purple Friday," Custishelem said, already set to don her Ravens jersey in honor of the season opener Monday.

Oh, the embarrassment of riches. Oh, the What Not to Wear clashing of orange and purple. Oh, get over it.

"I'll wear my Orioles hat with a Ravens hat underneath it," she decided.

That was along the sartorial lines that Kevin Parker had in mind.

"I could always do my purple jersey with my orange and black shoes," mused the 42-year-old who lives in Catonsville.

With his 4-year-old son Cameron in tow, and the hopes that he would last longer than his usual six-inning limit at Camden Yards, Parker is ahead of the game — he did his own Orange Friday last week.

As "huge" a Ravens fan as he is, having the O's back in contention sets the planet on its proper axis.

"When I grew up, baseball was king," he remembered. "The Orioles Way."

Even the occasional Yankees fan failed to annoy. Humility becomes them.

"Whoever wins, as long as it's good baseball," said Dennis Maynard, 67, of Long Island. A good thing, given that his team was going down.

John Duerr II and his son, John III, said they saw other Yankees fans on the light rail en route to the park, but they were remarkably pleasant as well.

"I told them they're only giving them to Orioles fans," John III said he told them, referring to the replicas of the Ripken statues that, as it turned out, everyone got.

We can afford to be generous.

On this thickly humid night, the crowd was in the game, from the first pitch on. There were boos rather than cheers for the visiting team. There were lines at concession stands, at Camden Yards, in September!

I can wait for my hot dog, happily. If there's one thing O's fans know, it's patience.