If last weekend's sweep of the Nationals ends up being the beginning of some sort of an Orioles Renaissance, I'll tell you who should get the credit.
Give it all to me.
I am realistic. Of course I know that it is more likely that things will soon revert to the careless, listless baseball pollution that is a tragic contrast to the once proud "Orioles Way" and "Orioles Magic." But we all saw something that past weekend from the Birds we have been waiting to see all season, a team that actually acted like they cared if they won or lost.
So where did the fighting spirit come from all of a sudden?
It came from me.
Like the rest of you, this 21st century demise of our beloved Orioles has hit me hard. The Orioles have been good to me most of my life. They gave me a World Series title one day after my ninth birthday in 1966, and by the time I finished Dundalk High School, I had seen three more World Series and another championship. When I got married in the summer of 1979, my wife and I spent many of our newlywed evenings chanting "Eddie, Eddie" with Wild Bill and the rest of the old crowd from Section 34. Early in my teaching career, I was able to reward all of my American History students with a free A on their next test to celebrate the 1983 championship. I was in Camden Yards that glorious evening when the 2-1-3-1 banner came scrolling down after Cal became a baseball immortal. I was in Cooperstown when Cal and Eddie got inducted to the Hall of Fame.
For most of my life, I have been able to boast with pride about being an Orioles fan. But in the last few years, it has become painfully harder to grab my Orioles hat when I step out of the door of my home in South Carolina. It is a difficult choice, deciding whether I want people to ridicule me for my bald head or for being a fan of the worst team in baseball.
When I was up for last weekend's series with the Nationals, all that I hated about this team immediately surfaced when we fell behind 6-0 in Friday's game. I had reached my boiling point. I saw a few empty seats next to the Orioles bullpen. So I picked up my glove — yes, at 52 I still take a glove to games — and stormed over to let several years of anger and frustration rain down upon the unsuspecting members of the Orioles bullpen.
"I've had enough of this horrible baseball. You guys are an embarrassment to this city and to the uniform. You are destroying a great tradition and history, so wake up and start earning your money," I screamed.
In the silence of a 6-0 Orioles deficit, my words were easily heard. The relievers' reaction made me irate — every single guy in an Orioles uniform laughed. Then they called over a police officer nearby and pointed in my direction. Apparently, the Orioles bullpen has no more desire to protect the First Amendment than they do three-run leads.
"We are down 6-0, and you guys think it is funny," I yelled. "What is so funny about being the worst team in baseball. The last thing I would do if I had the worst record in baseball would be to laugh about it."
My words might have stung a bit, because the laughter stopped. But my words also stopped once the police officer got over to me.
"Sir, we've had a few complaints," he politely said.
"Well you tell those guys that there are about a million people around Baltimore who have a few complaints about the way they've been playing baseball," I told him, hoping he would appreciate the humor. He did. He laughed for a second, but he had a job to do, and I respect that, and promised I would no longer launch any further tirades on the poor guys in the bullpen who apparently had their feelings hurt because a fan in the stands had the audacity to call them out for the pathetic way their team had been playing baseball.
But after watching Adam Jones turn another fly ball in the gap in left field from what should have been an out into a double, the anger returned.
"Will you go tell Adam Jones to go watch some videos of Paul Blair and Al Bumbry?" I screamed in the general direction of the bullpen, fighting the small chorus of boos that Mr. Jones' lackluster effort had produced. "Those guys used to go after fly balls like their life depended on it. He goes after fly balls like his Gold Glove is weighing him down."
This time it was not the police officer who approached me but one of the Orioles. He was a pretty big fellow, so I was glad there was a fence between us. He did not look very happy.
"Who are you talking to?" he asked. "What's your problem?"
"I am talking to this baseball team that continues to embarrass this city and its great fans, and my problem is none of you guys seem to care," I told him.
"Did your father not take you for ice cream when you were little?" he shot back, apparently having decided I was in need of some sort of psychoanalysis for caring so much about Orioles baseball.
"No, because he lived all 86 years of his life in this city and worked two jobs so that he could scrape enough money together so that I could go watch the Orioles play baseball whenever I wanted," I replied. "And I am glad he died a few years ago because as bad as you guys are now, this would be killing him."
I figured out later that the guy in the Orioles uniform was Will Ohman.
"Maybe I will tell Sammie (Orioles manager Juan Samuel) to put you on his staff. You ever play the game?" he asked sarcastically.
"No, I never played beyond Little League," I admitted. "But I can't sing either, and I've heard Whitney Houston and Roseanne Barr sing the National Anthem, and I know one of them sings a lot better than the other, and you guys are the Roseanne Barrs of baseball right now."
"Then why do you come if it bothers you so much?" he wanted to know.
"You should be happy I still do, because when you look at all these empty sections of seats in this stadium, those are the thousands of people who have decided not to come any more," I informed him. "The kind of baseball you guys play has created the worse thing a baseball team can create in their home city — apathy!"
I got it all off my chest, and Mr. Ohman walked back to the bullpen, the Orioles still down 6-0. Some of the other guys in the bullpen stared me down — I stared them right back down. If nothing else, there were at least some guys on this team who were going to know there are some of us from Baltimore who still take our baseball seriously.
But something very strange happened on the way to another Orioles loss that night. They clawed back in the game, and with the help of four Nationals errors, came back and won 7-6. My friends in the bullpen — this friendship being a one way street, I suppose — did not give up a run. When the contest was over, Will Ohman headed over toward me before strolling making his walk back to the Orioles dugout.
"We didn't quit, did we?" he said.
"No, and that is all we ask," I enthusiastically replied. "You guys show this much fight every night, that's all we ask."
Unfortunately, when I went back to catch Saturday's game, at first it was more of the familiar Orioles despair. We fell behind 5-0, and after most of us spent the afternoon watching the U.S. soccer team lose to Ghana in the World Cup, the last thing we wanted to do was place our hearts in the hands of another Orioles comeback. But I felt like I needed to give credit where credit was due.
"Hey, you guys hold 'em like you did last night, and we will fight back like we did last night," I yelled in the direction of the Orioles bullpen.
Sure enough, for the second night in a row, that is exactly what happened. Another spell of four shutout innings by the bullpen allowed us to come from behind again, this time scoring the winning run in the seventh inning on a wild pitch. There were great plays in the field and timely hitting, so for a brief moment in 2010, I was feeling Orioles Magic of 1979.
On Sunday, we got the brooms out and swept the Nationals, rallying back after trailing 3-0 to claim a 4-3 victory. The bullpen shut out the Nats over the final three innings, painting a proper finish to a weekend of pitching that was more artful than a Michelangelo masterpiece. In 12-2/3 innings of relief, they did not allow a run. I have never been able to hit more than 60 on a radar gun, but I grew up watching Jim Palmer, and guys named Mike with last names of Cuellar, Flanagan and Mussina get batters out, so I know great pitching when I see it.
"You guys won the series for us," I screamed over to the guys in the bullpen when they were gathering up their stuff after Sunday's games.
This time, they did not call the cops. Instead, most of them looked in my direction, saw me jumping up and down like a fool and returned an approving nod.
I suppose, in the reality of professional sports, that my little tirade had nothing to do with the turnaround I saw at Camden Yards this past weekend. To the Orioles bullpen, I will always be nothing more than some old fool who was ranting and raving irrationality during that weekend sweep of the Nats, disturbing the serenity of their major league lifestyle.
Maybe so, but if you ask me, I turned the team around this past weekend, challenged the players' pride and spoke for Orioles fans everywhere when I let them know, finally, that we have had enough.
So let the Renaissance begin. But be careful fellows. I may live 500 miles away these days, but my blood will always be black and orange, and the next time I come to town, if you are not playing the type of baseball that represents the wonderful legacy and tradition of Orioles baseball from the past, you will hear from me again.
Tom O'Hare, a Baltimore native, teaches high school history in Sumter, S.C. His e-mail is email@example.com.