For Baltimore's battalions of baseball devotees, this is the best of times -- and the worst of times.
The World Series begins tonight, one of America's most storied sporting events. And yet for Baltimore, the majesty comes with added melancholy. The team representing the American League for the second straight year is the Toronto Blue Jays, whose manager sent this town into communal apoplexy last July. When Toronto's skipper Cito Gaston failed to put Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina into the All-Star Game at Camden Yards, he tapped a vein of vitriol that hadn't been seen since the days of the savings and loan robber barons -- and inspired a cottage industry of novelty tee-shirts that only "shock" talk-show host Howard Stern could love. In short, the Blue Jays superseded the Yankees as the team this town loves to hate.
Maybe just as troubling to Orioles fans is the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies are the other team in the Series this year.
Not that we have anything against the Phillies. To the contrary, with its blue-collar, underdog, unpretentious style, it's a squad this town could rightly love. The team reminds us in some ways of the old Colts, the way John Unitas and Art Donovan, with crew cuts and high-top cleats, didn't just play here but seemed molded in the image of Baltimore.
But the last time the Phils were in the Series was 10 autumns ago -- when they lost to the '83 Orioles. The fact that after a long dry spell, they've gotten back to the championship and we haven't is equivalent to running into an old school friend after 10 years and finding out how successful he or she has become; you're happy to hear of your friend's good fortune, but it moves you to take stock of yourself, too. (To make matters worse, the Phillies' most valuable player in their league playoffs was a pitcher, Curt Schilling, whom the Orioles traded away -- to get the brittle and now departed Glenn Davis.)
Look at the bright side: We can watch the games in the warm confines of our own homes, where the beers don't cost three bucks, the lines to the bathroom move quicker and we didn't have to spend a small fortune on post-season tickets.
Sound the cry: Wait 'til next year.