At the end of each December, our editors at The Baltimore Sun ask us to write about the top moment on our beat from the nearly completed year.
It's usually not very difficult to do -- and 2014 wasn't much different. One moment stood out to me the most: I was fortunate enough to be writing the game story for Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.
In the eighth inning, pinch-hitter Delmon Young delivered a game-winning, bases-loaded double that created the loudest noise I had ever experienced. And it was my charge to put that into words. Pretty cool assignment.
But as I think back to what all occurred in 2014, there were so many memories that helped define this year for someone who covers the Orioles for a living.
Some were great, some were deflating. Some were personal.
Beyond the news that the Orioles made on the field, I spent a chunk of 2014 researching and writing a book on the club's history that will be out in April. It gave me the opportunity to speak to some of the central characters in 60 years of Orioles baseball.
For the first time in my career, I spoke to Billy Hunter about what it was like to be part of the 1954 opener and to Tito Landrum on his emotions when he hit his legendary homer in 1983 and to Mike Mussina on what he was thinking when he warmed up in the ninth inning in the 1993 All-Star Game.
Being much more in tune with the club's history, I think, helped me put in better perspective what the 2014 Orioles were accomplishing as they won their division and made it to the AL Championship Series for the first time since 1997.
When I think of 2014, it will always be the year for me that the Orioles' past successes and current success merged. Here are a few of my most memorable moments or storylines of the year, in no particular order.
The AL East-clinching celebration: I was in the visiting clubhouse in Texas in 2012 when the Orioles won the league's first wild-card playoff and celebrated an on-field accomplishment for the first time 15 years. It was raw, almost guttural. Although there was joy, it almost had an underlying tone of anger -- or at least a release of frustration. That wasn't the case this September, when the Orioles celebrated winning the AL East in front of their home crowd at Camden Yards. It was a party -- like a fraternity house crashing a wedding. There was a real sense of community, with a sprinkling of hijinks. Adam Jones smashing pies in the faces of fans and teammates, Tommy Hunter spraying beer on fans while a Baltimore Police officer stood by and smiled, and Buck Showalter leaning on the dugout rail taking it all in like a proud father.
The yearlong tribute to Monica Barlow: Myself and other Orioles writers have written about this plenty in 2014. And I'm sure it is tough for some of you to appreciate the dedications since Monica Barlow, the club's director of public relations, was usually behind the scenes. Her death in February after a protracted battle with cancer hit all of us who knew her extremely hard. Her death still resonates with many of us. Yet the way the players and Orioles staff responded -- from leaving her seat in the press box vacant all year to honoring her memory with donations from the pool of playoff money -- was outstanding. Her husband, Ben, was on the field and in the clubhouse on clinching night, and it was tremendous to see the outpouring of emotion toward him as well.
The resilience of Steve Pearce: As reporters, we are supposed to be objective observers -- and I take that role seriously. But it is hard not to feel good for a guy like Pearce, who has struggled to stay healthy and make it in the major leagues. When it finally happens, like it did for Pearce in 2014, it's a cool story. And considering that the Orioles released Pearce and re-signed him this year, it made his triumphs even more noteworthy.
The departure of Nick Markakis: I would have bet the house that Markakis would remain with the Orioles for life. But it didn't work out that way, and he's now with the Atlanta Braves. I probably respected Markakis as much as anyone I have ever covered. He was a professional throughout his career in Baltimore -- and he left that way, too, taking out a two-page advertisement in The Sun to thank the fans and the organization after he signed with Atlanta.
The collapse of Chris Davis: Sports are cruel. And Davis was on the top of the world in 2013 and hit his baseball nadir in 2014, batting just .196 and then being suspended for testing positive for amphetamines (Adderall). The day he was suspended -- a doubleheader at Camden Yards -- was surreal, with his teammates talking to the media in between games. Some were angry, others disappointed, others sad. It's one of those days that will definitely stick in my mind for a long time. There may have been more of those indelible moments in 2014 than any other year in my career.