George Carlin used to have a bit about the 7 dirty words that you couldn't say on television. But lately it seems like Baltimore Orioles fans think that hope is the dirtiest word in town.
My son was born in 2000, the Confederate years, and grew up thinking that mediocrity was the norm in Charm City. The Orioles lost way more than they won, and most victories seemed Pyrrhic anyway. For more than a decade we were all conditioned to failure. Camden Yards became a giant box where every time fans pressed the lever and hoped for something good, the only thing dispensed was Sammy Sosa or Sidney Ponson. This was all that my boy ever knew.
But he still asked me to take him to the ballgame every weekend. Whenever I asked him why, he always said the same thing. "Because we might get a win, Dad."
And then 2012 happened. The wins came faster than a Dalkowski fastball, and seemed just as mythical. People asked if it was real. If we could keep it up. By the time the All-Star break hit, Oriole fans knew we were back. This club, which won more games than any other franchise for the first thirty years of its existence, was finally ready to win. And we fans expected some Oriole Magic. Was that so wrong? Hadn't we suffered for fourteen years?
Even in defeat, we had become emboldened. Surely our new GM would go out, get us the remaining pieces, and we'd compete for our first World Series in thirty years. But it didn't happen. Our payroll and roster remained relatively unchanged as our fan base became relatively unhinged.
And this offseason it's become even worse. With two winning seasons under our belt, the fans are alive with disdain. Every time I turn on talk radio, someone is asking why the Orioles don't spend more money, why the team doesn't tap into the MASN revenue, what the longterm financial plan is for the team. In order to follow the Birds the past three months, you need a degree in accounting. And whenever the topic of the owner comes up, folks tend to invoke a few of those seven words you can't say on television.
We're not allowing ourselves to hope anymore. It's like those two seasons of success have had the opposite effect. It's made us jaded and cynical. With every free agent that goes unsigned, we feel personally betrayed as if all the money we spent on Esskay and Boh throughout the season came with the guarantee of signing A.J. Burnett. There are no guarantees in sports, just little moments of happiness. Like walking down Eutaw street when the gates first open, and craning your neck to the right to see who's at the plate. Like sitting down on those green folding chairs, the summer sun thawing you from months of waiting. Like hearing the crack of wood and feeling like you're twelve all over again.
Sports is only ever about hope. The scouts, they don't really know who's going to excel. For every Machado we have ten Rowells. The GM's, they don't really know how each trade is going to work out. For every Frank, we have ten Glenns. We don't know what's going to happen. So we hope. We listen to Manfra and Angel on the way home, hoping that Wieters gets a base knock. We watch Thorne and Palmer, hoping to hear "Way back!" And deep down in our Old Bay encrusted hearts, when the count is 3-2 and we're down by a run in the ninth, don't we all have a little Wild Bill in us? Don't we hope that the magic will be there?
Baseball has never offered certainties. But I do know one thing, when March 31st comes around, my son will be glued to the television every night, watching his team, hoping for a win.