I told myself I wouldn’t do it this year. I told myself that unlike the 26 or so other opening days since I began rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, I wouldn’t get caught up in the optimism of spring. I refused to let the fresh start and hope-filled dreams of a new season take over my normally tempered expectations of what the Orioles could do in 2012. And you know why? Because I did it last year. And the year before that. And the year before that, too. In fact, going back to say, 1987, to the infancy of my Orioles allegiance, I was plagued with eternal optimism for this club. I really, really don’t want to expect anything out of this gang of kids, who manager Buck Showalter has convinced me could somehow compete with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and New Yankees in the afternoons of late August and early September. Dammit Buck, you’ve done it. You’ve got me hoping.
Save for a three-year run in the late 90’s, being a fan of the Orioles hasn’t necessarily been filled with memorable moments. They’ve cycled through managers at a blinding rate of 12 in the last 26 years. They’ve shuffled general managers almost as frequently and during this off-season turned to a man who had been out of the league for 9 years to right the ship. But every year that begins, with it begins a hope that finally they will stand up and let the rest of the league notice there’s someone else at the party aside from the Yankees and Red Sox. But still, no one else is listening. This is, after all, the team that lost to a community college team yesterday, no matter how you spin it.
I woke up today as I did every year previously. I knew it was the start of a new season, a very long season in fact-yet somehow had convinced myself that they could win it all on opening day. Things will change. Foul balls down the line will bounce the other way and become triples in the corner. Young starting pitchers are all Cy Young Award candidates on a day like this, and will go seven innings instead of four. And what was once a fly ball caught at the warning track will find just a little more it to get over the left field wall.
Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina and the mid 90’s are all long gone. Brady Anderson is back, but this time as an assistant coach. What used to be a hope for a 100 win season is now the hope of avoiding a 100 loss season. The Orioles used to be the hottest ticket in town, they were the penthouse apartment with a skyline view. Now, the tickets are virtually free, and they’re a burned out house across the tracks. Except today. They’ll likely spend the next 161 games toiling in mediocrity at best, futility at worst. But for today, at least, they are contenders.