I wasn't born or raised an Orioles fan. I’m from eastern Canada, not a place where many people would even be expected to find Maryland on a map. In this region, people generally tended to gravitate to Toronto, Montreal or Boston teams. My father and I were Expos fans, fairly oblivious to the American League. My early idols were guys like Larry Parrish, Warren Cromartie, Al Oliver and Tim Raines. These were exciting teams with elite players and great fan support, but they never realized their potential.
Part of being an Expos fan for me came to mean, unfortunately, resenting the other Canadian team, an upstart, and living with a faint sense of dread that the first Canadian World Series win would go to the wrong city. So, I viewed the Blue Jays with some suspicion, particularly as they gained credibility in the 1980s. I always cheered for whoever they were playing against. As fate would have it, this led me to the Baltimore Orioles.
You know the Expos are renamed and relocated. The less said about that the better. I assume you can Google "Rick Monday home run" with "Expos", and "1994 Expos" and "strike" if you don't recall their denouement. (Incidentally, Cromartie and others want to bring a team back, possibly move the Rays, to Montreal. It sounds like it's now one or two steps on the probability scale above pipe dream, but it is a serious thing. Baltimore Stallions fans know about this possibility all too well.)
In 1983 I was an impressionable nine-year-old little leaguer; a left-handed first baseman who got to pitch once in a while. I wasn’t any good, but I liked trying to pick off runners. At that age, they were rather gullible. By 1983 the Expos had seemingly missed out on their best chances to get to the World Series, and, as it turned out, were settling in for a decade of mediocrity. On August 24 the Orioles were hosting the Blue Jays when I turned on my black and white television to channel 9. I had no idea at the time, but the Orioles had been 10-11 in August, and I'm sure they were anxious to string some wins together going into September. They were coming off a 9-3 loss to the Jays, in which Mike Flanagan disappointed the Memorial Stadium crowd by giving up five earned runs in three innings and committing an error; second baseman Lenn Sakata had two errors. But none of that was on my radar. I just wanted to watch some baseball, and, of course, hopefully see the Jays lose to whomever.
When I came across the game on this night it was the top of the tenth inning and fellow southpaw Tippy Martinez was on the mound for the Orioles. The Orioles had saved Scott McGregor from an undeserved loss by forcing extra innings with two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Sakata, a decent utility guy but no catcher, strapped on the gear after some overzealous pinch-running took both regular catchers out of the game. It fact, it was the only inning he ever caught. The Jays had homered to score a go-ahead run. Then, they were able to get three men to first, and each of them was understandably eager to take second at Sakata's expense. But they were too eager. Tippy, who likely was in no hurry to throw anything in Sakata's direction, picked all three off. I loved it. It was really unbelievable, and still strikes me as one of the more remarkable feats I've seen. Two was something. But three? In the bottom of the tenth Cal Ripken Jr. homered to tie it back up, and the aforementioned Lenn Sakata used the power of his desire to no longer catch by ending the game with a three-run homer, his second HR of the year (those were happier times when you never heard the term "walk-off"). Tippy, in picking up the win, showed the Blue Jays, and me, what a World Series team looks like. It was thrilling. And they weren’t the Yankees or the Dodgers. I was an instant fan, and started to pay a lot more attention. Great tradition, great uniforms, friendly bird logo, Ripken, and, of course, the sullen man whom I would come to recognize as the league's most feared hitter and my new idol. The Orioles would go on to win their next six games, and 24 of their next 30. The World Series victory topped it off. I was smitten. My life would revolve around the Orioles, even though the mid-1980s state of media and my remote location meant that I could only really follow them in linescores and the occasional Blue Jays or Red Sox broadcast. At that time it took a little doing, but I became obsessed with the team, and guys like Ken Dixon and Rene Gonzalez would be household names (in my house anyway).
I remained an Expos fan, but the Orioles took precedence over everything. Anyway, I always felt like there were important links between the teams: Ken Singleton, Dennis Martinez and now Dan Duquette, for example. The Expos even seem to have tried to capture some of the "Why Not?" magic with the likes of Phil Bradley (1992 tryout), Randy Milligan, and Joe Orsulak. The Orioles have been the object of my sports love ever since. Through what I tend to think of as the Floyd Rayford era, the 1989 season-ending series in Toronto bookended with Bradley's lead-off home run and Larry Sheets's K, the subsequent let down symbolized by Glenn Davis, to Maier and Armando. The combination of the bitter aftertaste of the 1994 strike, video-game-HR-total steroids era and the Yankees' dominance cooled me to baseball for a while, and the Orioles' descent into routinely paying too much for guys who've already had their best years with other teams (Albert Belle is but one embarrassing example) didn't help.
Okay, so the years since 1983 haven’t been Tippy-esque in the jubilation they’ve provided. But there’s been lots of great baseball in a great baseball town. Anyway, the lean years are what will make the next World Series that much more enjoyable. And the great thing about a rebuild is that, not only can you enjoy the process, but the sense remains that the best part is just around the corner.