IT WAS A LONG overdue season welcome to Charm City for Larry Bigbie. Or, more specifically, Good Luck Charm City.
Bigbie, fresh off the disabled list after suffering through a (mostly) disappointing start, cranked his very first homer of 2005 last night.
The bases-empty shot, in his first at-bat since May 28, lifted the Orioles to a 3-2 lead over the Houston Astros and was part of a six- run second inning that earned the Orioles the kind of victory they need to reinvigorate a season that can't be left to treading water.
Health might lead to prosperity in this oddly bedraggled American League East, especially for the injury-addled Orioles. That's why the victory inside last night's victory (the first for rookie call-up Hayden Penn) was as much about Bigbie as anything.
What a relief. For the Orioles, who need reinforcements. For him for all of us, too.
For two months, I've been carrying around a folder. It's stuffed with printouts of e-mail messages sent to the Baltimore Sun from Bigbie fans who earnestly and generously wanted to help the appealing man from Indiana.
See, three games into the season, Bigbie said he needed help.
'I'm very superstitious. I want to have a good season, so I need a good luck charm. Can you help me?' the left fielder said.
Not being picky, Bigbie said anything would do, which explained why he had once considered using a Swedish coin - never a popular choice among the superstitious baseball player set.
Then there was the piggy bank painted like a football, sent to him by his high school coach. He used that last year, sort of.
Bigbie's great idea was to put a quarter in the bank every time he had an O-fer, but when he shook the bank, it sounded pretty empty, with a quarter or two rattling around inside the porcelain pigskin.
"I kind of lost track." Bigbie said at the time.
You get the picture. Bigbie really did need serious help replacing the old (useless) good luck charm with something more dynamic, potent.
"The only criteria is that it has to fit on the shelf in my locker and fit in my travel bag." he said.
It all sounded simple enough, hence the outpouring (OK, not exactly an outpouring, but a healthy trickle) of e-mails from people eager to see the popular outfielder make good on his talent.
Take, for instance, the one from Nicole Jacobs, from Kennedyville. She wrote that:
"In lieu of myself, I gladly offer up this good luck dollar bill. While swimming in the Miami surf during spring training, I found a dollar bill bobbing along in the current. It's lucky I was even swimming that far out alone, after having watched Spring Break Shark Attack the prior night.
"Lucky that the salt water gave the dollar a crispness like the springtime air at Camden Yards. Lucky the dollar bill made it all the way home from Florida without being spent. Trust me, that's lucky."
Or this one, signed from Dave, Section 66, EE, Seat 16:
"Not that I am superstitious, but I always carry in my pants pocket a small black lava rock from Greece, a rosary from Rome, a souvenir penny from Hawaii and a worry stone from Ireland. Not that I'm eager to part with them, but anything to help out Larry and the O's."
A woman named Jane Sparrow wrote about how last year, when Bigbie was rehabbing in Frederick, she and her boyfriend went to see him play. Her boyfriend told Bigbie that he wanted his jersey to give to Jane.
"He smiled, but when I asked him if I could have his hat, he asked, "You want me hat?" I said I did, and he autographed it and handed it to me. My boyfriend was amazed, but now I'm thinking maybe it's the hat he's missing." Jane Sparrow said, adding:
"I'm willing to give the hat back."
Last night, after suffering through frustration, boredom and rehab, for his aching hamstring, Bigbie walked to the batter's box and announced himself to the Camden Yard faithful.
His homer was part of his first three-hit game of the season. He had a stolen base and an RBI single in the sixth that gave the Orioles an insurance run.
It was the kind of night he needed.
Or, my personal favorite offer, from an anonymous fan:
"I will give him my Hubert Humphries action figurine. It was just so funny I had to have it, but I will donate it to Larry's and the Orioles" cause if it will help the team. Where would he ever find a more unique good luck charm as this? Unless he wants a 6-inch Elvis that hangs with a suction cup that I also have."
The choice is Bigbie's, who announced his return to Good Luck Charm City last night, with a bang.