BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 28: Ryan Flaherty #3 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with Jim Thome #25, Mark Reynolds #12 and Manny Machado #13 after hitting a grand slam in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. - Greg Fiume
"The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden."
It was just after 7am on September 29th 2012 when I drove onto the Bay Bridge going home. Home. It had been fourteen years since I have thought of the Eastern Shore, or even Maryland for that matter, as my home. But as the sun rose over the bay, and a low mist clung to the opposing shores, I sped over a bridge I had traveled so many times in my wandering youth. This route was once so familiar to me but now it was almost as if I was having déjà vu, traveling a familiar route for the first time, the fog and memories creating a theater of light upon the estuary. I remember ducks flying low under the bridge. The air was cool, but not cold. I had a gas station coffee that tasted like burnt chalk. I was listing to "Coles Corner" by Richard Hawley and I tried to sing along to the music but I couldn't. Because I started crying.
Okay, I may have been in a "fragile" state due to having a drink or two the night before. But that morning was just one of those mornings that I know I will never forget. Even if so much of the night before was a blur, the quietude of that dawn, the stillness and comfort of my entire being stretched out each moment pressing it deep into my memory. This world was just so damn beautiful.
By the spring of 1998 I had dropped out of college, become estranged from my family, and was basically homeless living in my car as I drove without any direction around the US. I was considered "lost" by all who knew me then. I didn't care about baseball, or anything other than poetry, philosophy, coffee and cigarettes. It was a dark time in my life when I learned how to be truly alone, a valuable lesson that made me the man I am today. I remember writing in a journal then, "I am a man without a home, a man out of time. Perhaps the only place left for me is New York." In May of 1999 I moved to New York, and believed I would never live in Maryland again.
But on that September morning in 2012, I drove down rt. 50 heading home. I stopped at a roadside fruit stand to get an apple. When the proprietor innocently asked me how I was, I explained that the night before the Orioles won their 90th game of the season, and I predicted they would. I crunched the apple as I told him the tale of "my" struggle, being called crazy, becoming a prophet. He looked at me and said, "Me too! I said they were going to win 90 this year too!"
I wanted to tell him that he was wrong, that only I predicted this. I thought for a second to ask him for some kind of documentation proving that he believed this. Perhaps a sealed letter he mailed to himself that I could open for proof. But instead I just said, "Great!" and I meant it. Because it was great. Everything was great. I went to my home, the first place I could really call my home, and that night cooked a steak and listened to the O's game on the radio out by the fire. Steve Johnson started, Thor and Manny hit homers, Thor even stole a base, and the Orioles won their 91st game and were one day away from clinching their first playoff appearance in 15 years. I was happy, really truly happy. It wasn't about being right, or other people being wrong, it something else entirely. It was victory against despair. In those days I felt as if everything was organized in such a perfect fashion, even the words of others had helped form my narrative. From Stacey's "10 Best Things About Being an Orioles Fan" to Mark's "Torch Still Lit", the signs were all there. Something special had happened, some great play had unfolded throughout the summer and we were all spectators and we were all players. I had painted a mural of gods battling on the side of the righteous versus the moneyed scientists that lacked imagination. It was good versus evil, faith versus science, heart versus money, youth versus experience, hope versus despair. This became my narrative.
But really, let's be honest, it was just a bunch of big kids playing a game. And that is why I love baseball. It can mean so much, and mean so little, all in the same moment.
Had it not been for Camden Chat, had it not been for all of you who make this site so special, this year would have just been another year for me. I may have bought the farm still, and the Orioles still would have won over 90 games, but I never would have been a prophet. I never would have been at win #90, never had the morning with Richard Hawley and the Bay Bridge, and never had the sense of redemption. Had it not been for Mr. Jonathan Britton (WW) there's no way I would ever be on TV hugging my father. Had it not been for Stacey challenging me, had it not been for Andrew and EME, and really most people calling me a lunatic, had it not been for the tension and conflict of the site throughout the entire summer, the debates of run differentials, the stat guys versus the stat deniers versus the stat apologists none of this would be possible. Had it not been for the doubt and fear, for the creeping belief, the faith and the denial, this journey would have been without flavor. In fact, there would have been no journey at all. It was all of us, together, that made this season something so special. Everything was heightened, everything mattered just so much.
My father taught me everything I know about baseball. He has been a lifelong Yankee and Cub fan. He taught me to love the Orioles even if he didn't. He took me to games (and Charles Village Pub before the game), and he got me Cal's and Eddie's autographs, bought me a crabcake sandwich and an Orioles hat and program and taught me how to keep score. Most importantly, he taught me about the community of baseball. He always spoke to the people next to us, the other fans in Charles Village Pub, even people on the walk to and from Memorial Stadium. Now I understand, he was not teaching me to love a sports team, but rather, to love the land of my birth, my home. It was somehow fitting that he was there with me at the culmination of this journey. This year, I rediscovered my love of Maryland. This year, after 14 years of self imposed exile, I finally came home.
So I just wanted to say thank you to all of Camden Chat. Without you, the moments that became so momentous for me never would have happened. Without this community, the narrative would never have been written. This year, I finally found my way home, and in the end it was all of you that showed me the way.