Baltimore Orioles' Spring Training sights and sounds video from Sarasota, Florida. An up close look as the Orioles take part in skills and drills as they prepare for the season. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun video)
The odds of winning at blackjack are nearly even money. The odds of winning a Grammy? No worse than 20-1 if you’ve been nominated, according to the insiders at Gold Derby, which specializes in predicting Hollywood awards. The odds of dying of an opioid overdose, a car crash or as the result of a fall are all in the neighborhood of a not-that-long-of-a-shot 100-1, which is a little worrisome. But if you want an event that experts see as truly unlikely, you need to get down to Camden Yards this year where the chances the Baltimore Orioles will win the World Series, according to Las Vegas bookmakers, have been gauged as being as long as 2,000-1, which is by far the worst of any franchise.
That’s right, as low as expectations have been for Charm City’s Major League Baseball team in recent years, they’ve sunk to what appears to be an all-time, rock-bottom record. The Orioles are the 1962 Mets or perhaps the 2003 Tigers. Insiders aren’t talking about a 100-loss season — that’s practically a given for a team that won all of 47 games last year. Within sight is the possibility of setting a record for losses. And it’s not like they’ve got some superstar on the roster to distract. The biggest name in the Orioles dugout is Chris Davis, and he’s a record setter alright — last year, the well-paid slugger racked up the worst batting average (.168) in MLB history for a player with 500 or more plate appearances.
We won’t try to expound on the inner workings of a franchise in what is obviously a rebuilding season. We have sportswriters for that. But it does fall on this page to each year mark Opening Day of Major League Baseball and observe Baltimore’s special relationship and proud history with the sport. As a fictional character played by James Earl Jones once observed in an overrated movie that got much of its baseball history wrong, “Baseball has marked the time.” We’re not sure exactly what that means, but when you hear it from the voice of CNN/Darth Vader, it sure sounds profound.
So, Lesson One is let’s not take this business of winning in the American League East all that seriously. The Orioles open against the New York Yankees Thursday afternoon. If all goes as expected in the Bronx, they’ll lose to a franchise that many expect to take the division title, if not win the whole enchilada in October. But at least they’ll probably not have to play more than 8 ½ innings to do so. And despite all the Yankees’ firepower and pitching, the Orioles probably won’t lose on Friday. No game is scheduled for Friday.
Not good enough? There’s more to attending a game at Orioles Park than watching the home team win. There’s plenty of other fun stuff to do. There’s looking at the grass and determining how much is Kentucky bluegrass, bermudagrass, tall fescue or ryegrass. Order a sandwich from Boog’s Barbecue and compare and contrast the kettle chip options. Ask the beer vendors if their product is or “ain’t” cold. Lie on Eutaw Street and pretend to have been hit by a home run. Wait outside the locker room after games and offer to give the players your autograph. Yell out Shakespeare passages during particularly bad plays: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet) or “We have seen better days” (As You Like It) or “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall” (Measure for Measure).
Finally, there is that happy place all hard-core baseball fans retreat to when the going gets tough — nostalgia. Recall the days when Jon Miller broadcast Orioles games and actually had something interesting to say? Try to name the starting outfielders from the 1954 roster. (Wait, was Cal Abrams in left, center or right?) Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Cuba games coming up on May 3 or perhaps the 18th anniversary of Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter in Camden Yards on April 4. Name the highest home attendance year. (If you said 1997, you obviously cheated). Debate whether Brooks Robinson, the human vacuum at 3rd base, might have made an excellent human vacuum, period.
Or perhaps we could just be happy to see baseball return and with it some sunshine and warmer temperatures. There are worse things than spending an afternoon watching the Orioles, whether in person or on TV or listening on the radio. Vince Lombardi might be rolling in his grave, but winning isn’t the only thing. It’s nice and all, but nobody shuffles off this mortal coil wishing they’d spent less time with their family and friends enjoying the nation’s pastime. Play ball!