Fans greet the Orioles as they return to Camden Yards after sweeping the Tigers and becoming ALDS Champions
Hundreds of fans turned out Monday afternoon at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to welcome the Orioles back from Detroit, where a day earlier the team finished a sweep of the Tigers to clinch a spot in the American League Championship Series.
The Oriole Bird high-fived fans and waved a team flag before coaches, players, team officials and their families made their way off buses and down a narrow path through cheers and TV cameras to the clubhouse.
Jeff Stower wore a personalized Orioles T-shirt he bought for Opening Day in the spring. The long-sleeved black shirt has an orange O on the front, and on the back, the words "Our Year, Our Time."
Stower and his wife, Lori, of Edgemere, said they attended some 40 games this year, including both of the team's home games in the opening round of the division series. They said the city has been "electric" as Baltimoreans have watched their baseball team struggle through 14 straight losing seasons before reaching the American League Division Series in 2012.
Now, the team has a chance to play in its first World Series in more than three decades. Four more wins put the Orioles in their first Fall Classic since 1983.
"It's been so long since we've been here," Stower said.
Stower said he came to Camden Yards to thank the players for a year that has been "better than '97," the last time the O's advanced this far in the playoffs.
James Magill, 25, was easily the most vocal of the hundreds gathered to catch a glimpse of the players as they got off three buses parked outside Home Plate Plaza.
In the middle of the orange masses, he led cheer after cheer, the crowd repeating after him: "Let's Go O's," "We Won't Stop," "Nick Mar-ka-kis," "Del-mon Yo-ung," "Cruuuuuuuuz," and the modified "Ole" soccer chant, for pitcher Darren "O'Day, O'Day, O'Day, O'Day — O'Day, O'Day!"
The Catonsville man said he remembered watching a game in a crowd of what he estimated to be only 500 at the ballpark in a previous year. While that might have been an exaggeration, fans and broadcasters alike have noted the sold-out, screaming crowds that have packed Camden Yards during the 2014 playoff run.
"I'm ready to see a World Series," Magill said before turning away abruptly to bellow another chant.
Cecelia Ladybug of Parkville cheered in a bandanna she made out of one of the hundreds of orange towels team officials passed out Monday. Ladybug said she and her 22-year-old son have rooted for the team through all the years of mediocrity.
"He was with them from the bottom," she said. "It just goes to show, even if you're at the bottom, you can soar to the top. Consistency pays off."
Donning a bright orange sun hat, Joan Greenwood said the Orioles' playoff run represented "everything this town needs."
Greenwood, a resident of Edgemere, said the team's manager is her favorite. "Buck Showalter should run for mayor," she said.
Standing beside her, Lori Wittman agreed, saying his unfazed demeanor is constant, regardless of the situation. "I love seeing him smile," she said.
Showalter was among the first off the first bus and waved as he gathered his luggage.
"We're just trying to respond to everybody congratulating us, wishing us well, because they've been there through thick and thin," Showalter said of the past day. "It means a lot to us and we know how much it means to them."
The reception was humbling, but not surprising, he said, before he paused inside the ballpark doorway to see his players walk the orange-lined path to the front entrance.
Some of the players — center fielder Adam Jones among them — seemed unaffected by the outpouring. Others, however, were visibly moved. Injured catcher Matt Wieters mouthed "Wow" to a team employee as he came inside. Catcher Nick Hundley called the celebration "amazing."
"You don't get that too often," he said. "We've still got a long way to go. Hopefully, it gets more and more exciting as we go on."
Nine-year-old Gabe Willett spray-dyed his hair orange for the occasion.
Who was he most excited to see? Nelson Cruz, the home run machine? Jones, the face-pieing fan favorite? Markakis, the right fielder playing in the first postseason of his 11-year tenure with the O's?
Nope, he said, leaning up against an orange barricade and craning his neck. His dad, Casey Willett, a WBAL Radio producer who travels with the team, was on one of those buses.