This week has been one full of goodbyes, both professionally and personally. And every time, I try to talk about what being able to cover the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun means to me, my eyes become watery, I get choked up and words become difficult.
I didn’t think it would be that way, but when Baltimore gets in you — or in my case, back in you — it’s difficult to let it go, especially letting go of something you had been chasing pretty much your whole life.
You see, I grew up in a mobile home in Jessup. The memories are there, but the place isn’t. The sports field next to my home where I used to hit baseballs is now taken over by suburban sprawl in the form of another cookie-cutter apartment complex.
When I was a really little kid, I used to want to be a trash man. I’d get up every Wednesday and Saturday morning and peer over the window to watch the trash truck go by. I think I just thought the idea of riding on the back of a truck was cool. That’s how you think when you’re 5. Then I wanted to be an astronaut, an idyllic pipe dream of any child of the ’80s.
But as I got older, all of those dreams went away and one emerged from the pack: wanting to cover the Orioles for The Sun. I read and revered The Sun’s Orioles writers, a legendary group of reporters who made this position one of prestige. That was the job I chased from the time I was a teenager, through my internships and through three newspaper stops until it became a reality thanks to some blind faith, a lot of luck and a supportive wife.
Over the past seven years, I was able to live out my dream. Anyone who does this will tell you covering baseball is a grind. You have to love the game and you must have passion for what you do.
Having said all that, the most enriching part of this job has been being able to cover the Orioles through the lens of a Baltimore kid who used to chase baseballs around the outfield bleachers at Memorial Stadium. And that experience was enhanced by learning early on how much the Orioles matter to their fan base.
Internally, I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver the coverage my readers valued — while living up to the ghosts of past beat writers here — and ultimately, that made me better.
On the Orioles beat, there’s never been anything I’ve ever covered that I knew was so important to my readers. And yes, it’s a game, but I was reminded on a daily basis how passionate the fans are.
This was the first time in my career I’ve ever been recognized in public, and it happened a lot. Sometimes people would yell out to me by my Twitter handle. Everyone wanted to talk baseball, and this was totally new to me. But it was always a reminder of how much this team means to this city.
I knew what I wrote was important to my readers, and for a journalist, that’s one of the most rewarding things you can take from your job.
It’s been a privilege to bring you, the readers, the written images of the good times and the bad over the past seven seasons.
There was the 2012 team, a club built on momentum that came with the sudden confidence that, yes, the Orioles could run with the division heavyweights. There was the 2014 division title team, one whose accomplishment was best captured in silence. I remember on Clinchmas watching Buck Showalter stand on the top step of the dugout and watch his team celebrate quietly, Nick Markakis cracking a smile looking at a Camden Yards video board that proclaimed them American League East champs.
There’s the frustration of the 2016 wild-card game in Toronto, watching a promising season go up in smoke in one inning. And this year’s difficulty of letting go of players who connected so well with what Baltimore is about — such as Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
I felt all of that along with you, and hopefully I was able to relay it from my front-row seat in the press box.
A week from today, I head south to my adopted second home in Tampa, Fla., for my second chapter with the Tampa Bay Times, where I will cover the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and produce pro sports enterprise work. I’ll still be around baseball, going from camp to camp during spring training. I can’t let baseball get too far away from me.
It’s a new adventure, and it’s exciting. But there will be nothing like the chapter I’ve experienced covering the Orioles for The Sun. Simply put, it was a dream come true.
Thank you, Baltimore.
Eduardo A. Encina