Spring is typically a time of new life, renewal and hope. The grass begins to turn from brown to green, the bare trees sprout new leaves, flowers pop up, and baseball season begins. As a lifelong, die-hard Orioles fan, Opening Day has long been a tradition and a day to celebrate the clean slate of the new season. But last year at this time, so much was stripped from all of us around the world. With the arrival of spring, we were faced with what felt like impending doom and uncertainty instead of hope and life. In those dark days, the absence of sports and especially baseball felt like such a low blow.
Just as the pandemic hit and the world was beginning to go into lockdown, my brother, Tom, died suddenly without any known illness. To say that this loss shattered all who loved him is an understatement. My brother, his wife and their son, Charlie, who is in his early 20s, had lived in England for decades. Despite this, Tom and Charlie always knew more about baseball than 90% of the people I knew right here in Baltimore. The three of us always shared our passion for the Orioles, though the start of this year’s baseball season felt bittersweet and full of unknowns.
Still, when Charlie messaged me last week to simply say, “I hope you are near a television” when it was nearly 11 p.m. in England, I knew I needed to tune into the ballgame.
I messaged him back and asked what was happening. He wrote back, “Don’t make me say it or I’ll jinx it!!!” Just then, I saw the score and was desperate to learn the line score.
We watched together, me in Timonium and he in England. We messaged back and forth without ever uttering the words “no-hitter” or “no-no” and collectively held our breath with each pitch.
As the Orioles organization continues with its long and often painful rebuilding process, the stellar pitching performance by John Means last week reignited hope and promise for the future for many Orioles fans like me. As the last few innings unfolded, Orioles Twitter was brimming with excitement, anticipation and even a few who dared write “no-hitter” before the game was over. Just reading tweets with no-hitter spelled out felt wrong, and I worried that my reading those forbidden words could lead to a jinx. It’s one of those unwritten rules of baseball, a sport known for its share of superstitions.
The magic prevailed as John Means threw strike after strike, and all the position players took care of business. As he took the field for the 9th inning, he seemed to look down at his glove. I didn’t think anything of this until he later shared that he was looking at the initials of his father that were stitched there.
His dad passed away last August after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Hearing him talk about his dad after the game just made me feel even more in awe of his pitching performance. Baseball is so much more than a game. It is often stitched into the fabric of our families and our relationships in more ways than some could understand. I know that it runs deep in my relationships with my family and friends. Those ties bind us as fans just as those ties bind the players. I have repeatedly watched the celebration on the field just after shortstop Ramon Urias made the last out. I cannot get enough of that scene. It was pure jubilation. The photographs are overflowing with unbridled joy and a true appreciation for the significance of such a game. One photo shows Trey Mancini intensely cheering for John Means as he approached the happy scrum of players mobbing the hero of the day. John Means is officially part of baseball history and Oriole lore. His near-perfect no-hitter was a master class in hitting the strike zone. It was a thing of beauty.
This spring already feels different for all the obvious reasons, but the Oriole Magic on display last week with John Means’ pitching masterpiece tells a whole new story of hope, renewal and connection. Baseball, like spring, has a way of reminding us that anything is possible and that some ties can never be broken.
Amy Mudd Ciarlo (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Timonium.