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The birds are back in town

The Orioles didn't open the season at home but played the first three games of the regular season in Tampa, only an hour's drive north of the club's spring training facility in Sarasota. That makes today's home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays feel all the more like the true starting point for the 2015 season.

And it couldn't happen too soon.

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Play 4, 5, 8, 20, 22 or 33 in the lottery and we know why. And it's easy enough to tell whether someone is from around here by asking a simple question: Say, stranger, who was that Orioles relief pitcher who picked off three consecutive Toronto Blue Jay baserunners at first base in the 10th inning on Aug. 24,1983? Those who don't instantly recall Tippy Martinez were probably not even raised in an American League city, let alone this one.

As much as the Ravens have brought to Baltimore by winning two Super Bowls, they can't claim that rich tradition so interwoven with family life. This is the town that produced Babe Ruth, for heaven's sake. Opening Day — meaning the first game at Camden Yards — marks the end of a horrid winter filled with snow, ice and getting stuck at home with the kids because the school shut down over a miserable three inches of snow. Three inches! Oh, but we digress.

We won't attempt to analyze the team's chances of repeating as American League East champions this season. We certainly didn't predict their success last year. Few did. But it is amusing to see sports writers around the country abandon the team in droves, apparently certain that last year was either a complete aberration or that the departure of free agents Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Nick Markakis will prove too great a loss to overcome. Sports Illustrated, to offer just one example, picks the Orioles to finish third in a division regarded as lackluster compared to seasons past, barely above .500, and to not even qualify for the playoffs.

Oh, really? Baseball isn't like football. You don't post such insults on the bulletin board and expect a team's fury to carry it to victory. Baseball is much more like life. It is about focus and preparation, not holding grudges. Success in the sport comes from doing the little things correctly and putting yourself in a position to succeed, as managers like to say. It is also a marathon, a six-month,162-game schedule where the best teams will still lose more than 60 times, the best hitters fail seven out of 10 times at the plate, and the final standings often turn on the unforeseen injury. The pros must take failure in stride or they'd go crazy.

But Baltimore's baseball fans? Oh, we can and do take such slights to heart. Underrated, overlooked, underappreciated — that suits Baltimore to a tee. We like to keep a chip on the shoulder the size of the Washington Monument (the original one, of course) for just such occasions. Everybody seems to like the Nationals to win the National League pennant, by the way, which means, oh, it's on, Nationals fans. Mon dieu, former Montreal Expos, how did you guys do head-to-head against the Orioles last year? Seems like the Orioles won the Beltway Series, trois games to un. Let your All-Star starting pitchers chew on that for a while, mes amis.

Ah, baseball smack talk. All is right with the world. And it doesn't hurt that the Orioles emerged from Tampa winning two of three games. Gone are the days of last place finishes. Not under Buck Showalter, the league's best manager, or with the powerful lineup, the sterling defense and underrated pitching staff the Orioles have put together. It is the beginning of the baseball season, and hope springs eternal in the human breast. Play ball.

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