Buck Showalter remembered sitting in the Orioles clubhouse as a driving rain delayed the first playoff game Baltimore had hosted in 15 years.
"Do you think the fans will stay?" asked a relatively new Oriole.
"Hell yes," replied closer Jim Johnson.
The Orioles manager told the story to illustrate the connection between his team and Baltimore. And that bond, which Showalter helped restore, was a big reason why he received The Baltimore Sun's 2012 Marylander of the Year award on Monday.
With about a month left until the start of 2013 season, Showalter is deeply absorbed with the minutiae of preparing his next team. But he took advantage of a rare off day in the spring training schedule to fly to Baltimore for one last celebration of a remarkable 2012.
"I can't tell you what the city and state meant to us in the last month of the season," he said, reflecting on the raucous crowds that cheered his club down the stretch.
Showalter accepted the award at a ceremony attended by more than 150 guests that included members of the Greater Baltimore Committee, Orioles officials, including owner Peter Angelos and fans. He described how players approached him over the last few days at spring training, saying how excited they were about the honor.
"It means a lot to them," he said, "because they know it's a reflection of what they chose to be about."
As fans grew so tired of repeating, the Orioles hadn't posted a winning mark since 1997. And few expected them to break the streak entering last season. But with a power-hitting offense, an impregnable bullpen and a manager who seemed to know the best use for every part, they not only streaked past .500, they made the playoffs and put a huge scare into the hated New York Yankees.
"The year produced many worthy candidates whose accomplishments will long echo in Maryland history," The Sun's editorial board wrote in announcing its Marylander of the Year selection. "And Mr. Showalter's business is, of course, a boy's game played by millionaires. But it is also one of the rare things that can bind every part of this community together, a tradition that knits one generation to the next. Many Marylanders achieved remarkable things in 2012, but none brought more unexpected joy to this town than Buck Showalter."
Showalter said he attended a fundraiser in Annapolis where he unwittingly shared the room with two other finalists. There, he joked that "there must not have been a lot of competition" if he was elected Marylander of the Year.
"I will not open my big mouth again," he said Monday, drawing big laughs as he recounted his embarrassment.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
As part of the ceremony, Showalter fielded questions from fans.
Are outfielder Nick Markakis and second baseman Brian Roberts healthy? "They're in good shape."
How does he feel about the switch from a synthetic to a natural warning track at Camden Yards? "I think it will be a safer surface for our players and it will fit the retro look of our stadium."
Showalter paused a little longer when asked what he told his players after their magical season ended in Yankee Stadium.
"I told them, 'Think about what you're feeling now and hold on to that until next year,'" he said. "I said, 'Have the feeling of to be continued …'"