On Sunday, a splendid day in the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin, I purchased four tickets for the 1:05 p.m. game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.
Remember how Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over”?
This one was over before it was over.
The leadoff batter for the Blue Jays hit a single. The next one walked. The next one walked. The next one got hit by a pitch. The next one hit a grand slam. After one inning, it was 5-0 Toronto — not an insurmountable lead, but I had no faith the Orioles’ pitchers could stop the Blue Jays barrage. In the film “Meet Joe Black,” an elderly woman recognizes the spooky presence of death in Brad Pitt. Experienced Orioles fans have a sixth sense, too: We can sense looming doom. It’s not that hard.
After three innings, the Blue Jays led 16-4.
If anyone among the 8,474 in attendance booed, I could not hear them. Orioles fans, generally more sedate than most in Major League Baseball, have grown accustomed to this kind of awful losing, and by now there’s little point in hooting at the young players and their coaches.
By the end of the seventh inning, the score was 22-7. (Hey, take away the Jays’ five-run first and their 10-run third, and it would have been all tied up going into the eighth!)
It was the 97th loss of the season for the Orioles. The pitchers allowed Toronto to score 47 runs in four weekend games. I met a friendly Jays fan from the province of New Brunswick who saw all four games; he certainly got his money’s worth.
Can’t say I felt the same way, but sometimes you don’t get what you pay for.
The poet Alexander Pope was born in London in 1688, some 230 years before the first tuberculosis vaccine and, thus, his death at age 56. Though ill for much of his life, and known as a satirist, Pope is perhaps best remembered for three words about the human tendency toward optimism: “Hope springs eternal.”
But Pope never saw an Orioles game.
With the Orioles, hope does not spring eternal. It leaks out every once in a while, about as often as I have to replace my basement water heater.
So I prefer a more sober credo that keeps optimism in check. “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” the sign at the entrance to Hell in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” seems perfect. They should hang that over the Eutaw Street entrance.
We kid because we love.
But my point is serious in a clinical sense: Orioles fans should always keep expectations locked and unloaded. That way, nobody gets hurt.
Of course, no one is raising any false hopes around here. We have had five consecutive losing seasons — miserable, numbing, embarrassing seasons — as the organization tries to rebuild the team and its minor league system. We’ve been told the idea is to start all over again — knock away the old plaster and rotting joists and build an organization with long-term, sustainable success. One of the coaches said that fans are getting to see the Orioles’ system “with the studs exposed,” making the rebuild sound like a season of “Fixer Upper.”
No one in the B&O Warehouse publicly claims that things will turn around next year. And so, come April, we will reach an anniversary with no special dinner plans and no champagne.
Next spring will mark 30 years since the Orioles played their first game in Camden Yards and the cool new ballpark that excited not only Baltimore but the baseball world. The project turned out so good it was almost shocking. Baltimore did something baseball fans across the nation instantly admired and other teams envied.
But over the 30 years since, the Orioles organization managed to put on the field only nine teams that won more games than they lost and one, in 2015, that went 81-81. The Orioles have had 20 losing seasons — 14 of them consecutively at one point — in the magnificent downtown ballpark.
And I don’t use “magnificent” easily. Oriole Park deserves that adjective. Baltimoreans, who joined Maryland taxpayers in supporting the acquisition of land and the construction of the ballpark, continue to take pride in it. The Orioles organization has paid rent and taxes to the Maryland Stadium Authority that by now surpass the original sticker price on the place. But the organization has not done enough to produce teams to match the magnificence of the park in which they play.
“They’ve got some nice parts,” the friendly fellow from New Brunswick said, and not patronizingly, of the Orioles he saw over the weekend. I agree. There is a nucleus of young talent, and reports from the minors seem promising. But, as always, the proof is in the pitching.
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The year 2023 will mark 40 years since the team last won the World Series. That’s pushing two generations of Orioles fans without the biggest thrill of all. Reluctant as I am to ascribe to a baseball team the responsibility of lifting community spirits, few things do that better than a winning season that runs into October. Baltimore needs that badly. We’ve been asked to suffer through a radical rebuild to get there. I’m in, if only because it will soon be time to replace my water heater.