On the team's 6-1 start

The Baltimore Sun

If there was ever any doubt about the forgiving nature of Baltimore sports fans, it did not survive the first week of the baseball season.

Some of the same fans who booed Aubrey Huff unmercifully on Opening Day cheered him unabashedly after his game-winning home run Monday, and it didn't stop there.

I made the mistake of offering the opinion on WBAL on Tuesday night that if Huff continued to swing a productive bat for a couple of months, the Orioles might be in a position to shed his big contract at midseason - something no one would have dreamed possible a few weeks ago.

It seemed like a fairly benign comment to me, until the first talk-show caller blasted me for being too negative about the Orioles' chances of staying competitive all year and suggesting a roster-altering deal while the team was on such an upbeat, season-opening roll.

The guy also called me on the orange carpet for being (ugh!) a native Southern Californian who doesn't really have a right to voice such seditious opinions around here.

It was a revealing exchange, considering most Orioles fans wanted to ride Huff out of town on a rail after his controversial appearance on a shock jock's satellite radio show in November. The general sentiment at the time favored his unconditional release, but a couple of big home runs and a lot seems to be forgiven.

That's fine. Everybody deserves a second chance - though we're still waiting for Paul Tagliabue to hit his way out of our doghouse - and Huff's redemption is proof of the venerable sports adage that winning cures everything. The perception of the entire organization seems to have changed radically in just a matter of days.

The Orioles were the target of widespread fan frustration until new club president Andy MacPhail did a pretty good job of changing the subject with his straight talk and decisive rebuilding effort. The fans were even ready to accept another losing team if it were losing for the right reasons.

They'll probably still get that opportunity, but the quick start is already changing the way many of them view the club, which might or might not be a great thing. The uplifting first homestand allowed several of the new players to make a great first impression and some of the old ones (Huff in particular) to regain some credibility after a particularly rough 2007, but it's important to remember there is a plan in place for the long term that isn't likely to be abandoned or significantly altered if the Orioles play over their heads for an extended period.

I'm guessing Brian Roberts is still available for the right price and will remain so unless the Orioles have a chance to complete one of the all-time miracle runs this summer, which could create a strange scenario in which many fans suddenly decide it might be all right for Peter Angelos to step in and veto a deal if it means keeping Roberts for the whole year.

(Come to think about it, maybe I am too negative. Why can't I just sit back and enjoy the ride like everybody else? And, while I'm on the subject, what kind of Neanderthal sport columnist can't get excited about the women's Final Four?)

Don't misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with a little irrational exuberance 10 days into a new baseball season. The Orioles have played great, and their fans deserve to enjoy every minute of every victory. They've waited a long time for a decent team, so every week the Orioles play well instead of just marking time until 2010 should be viewed as a gift from above - and I'm not talking about the owner's box.

It's OK to fantasize about another "Why Not?" season like the one that enchanted Orioles fans in 1989. It's OK to imagine this Orioles team can stay healthy, happy and horseshoe-lucky for the next six months, long enough to throw a scare into the entrenched power structure in the American League East.

Stranger things have happened, but don't make the mistake of inflating the short-term expectations for this team beyond the point where you can still take a measure of satisfaction from the incremental progress that MacPhail set out to achieve this year.

Live in the moment, but don't take leave of your senses.

Right now, you're getting the best of both worlds, and that's just fine.


Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.

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