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The Champ is Here

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It is April 20, 2005, and the World Champion Boston Red Sox arrive in Baltimore to face our Orioles for a short two-game series.

In 2004, the Orioles were a thorn in the side of the Red Sox, winning 10 of 19 head-to-head matchups and playing them as tough as anyone else did all year, even the Yankees. Because of this, the Red Sox and their fans, unlike New York and theirs, have a healthy dislike for us. The Yankees only care about us as a puny weakling on which to tread; the Red Sox haven't had the same luxury. Thankfully, the Yankees have not this year, either.

Both teams have changed a lot from last season. Sammy Sosa is now an Oriole. Brian Roberts' performance through 14 games brings to mind the man whose name cursed Boston for 86 years. The Orioles are playing like a team to be reckoned with rather than overlooked. It's April, but the games count as much now as in May, June, July, August and September when it comes down to that final day of standings.

In Boston, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe are gone, replaced by the two men we will face, David Wells and Matt Clement. Wells is a known commodity for us, having spent the majority of his career in the AL East, including one (horrible) season with the Birds. Clement is a hired gun with stuff that can rival almost anyone in the league.

And the Red Sox can still hit. And the Red Sox are hot, having won six of their last eight after a 2-4 start.

On paper, we simply don't match up with Boston. "Games aren't played on paper," say dreamers with teams like ours. Why not agree?

Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez, probably our two best starting pitchers dating back to the stretch run of 2004, will take the hill against Boston. It's a whole new ballgame against the Sox now. Having dominated the Yankees thus far and being a 9-5, first-place team, I think our confidence runs high.

The Red Sox, like New York, will bring their fans to Boston and pack Camden Yards. We'll hear cheers for Red Sox runs and boos for Sosa, Tejada, Roberts, Mora and anyone else. They will be scattered, but they will be there.

To truly feel like we can compete with Boston and New York, I think these two games are somewhat vital for such an early season affair. Two wins over the Red Sox on our turf, and the team tells us they're here to compete. Two losses, and the doubts can resurface.

Am I being overly dramatic, or putting too much stock into these games? Sure, but that's part of why I love baseball. It's things like this, and teams like ours, that inspire us to cheer for 162 games. I've often wondered what it's like to be a Yankee fan. I mean no disrespect to the good Yankee fans (yes, there are some; in fact, many), but I don't know what it's like to cheer the guy that's going to win every year. I only know the Orioles, and obviously, for the great majority of my life, we were not going to win that year.

Boston got their title, and I was happy for them. Now, though, I want to take them down the same as I want to take New York down. It is likely folly to believe these Orioles are the group to do it, but why else would I be here and caring about this team if I didn't think, somewhere, that maybe there was a shot? Why would anyone root anything that had no hope? "You gotta believe" is a great baseball cliche, but man, it's kind of true. You do gotta believe. Otherwise, I don't see the point.

That's baseball to me, really. It's not just a game or a sport, it's almost a religion. You take the flag of a team and wave it, rallying behind it, and you stay true to that. You make a big deal out of two games in April. You overrate your left fielder, think Bruce Chen is really going to put it together finally, consider the positives of BJ Surhoff, and admire Geronimo Gil and his sickly bat, because hey, the guy can throw. Baseball.

I admire the large fanbases of the Yankees and Sox, the way they're vocal and spirited and angry when their team loses to the other one, and I really want ours to be like that, and for our fans to get that same arrogance. But you have to win to do that, and we have to let those teams know we're here. We've gotten New York's attention. Let's get down, Boston.