"It hit me hard. It’s not because I get traded, but one thing I never want to do is leave this team. I love being here."
I don't remember my first baseball game. The earliest game I do remember was 1993, and we were already out of the chase, but I was undeterred. All we had to do was win 12 of our next 15 (or something) and have Toronto lose 10 of their next 15 and we'd be right back in it. That night we were playing either the Blue Jays or the Athletics. We lost. It was exhilarating. It was a buzz that I've spent oh so much of my adult life chasing. Camden Yards was packed, Rex Barney was on the microphone, Cal at short, hot peanuts. My dad and I met some very nice fans of either the Blue Jays or the Athletics, and 7-year-old me was hooked for life.
I remember when Miguel Tejada came back to Baltimore with the Astros. I went to that first game, and I heard Tejada on the radio saying something indescribably hard to parse on the staticky radio signal about how the Orioles were still struggling without him, how could Oriole fans blame the losing on him. And the only question of the day was, if you were going that game, would you boo, or clap, or what?
I didn't react. Tejada was too complicated an emotion for me, and his introduction almost came too fast and too sudden and I never made up my mind of what to do, so I sat there. But the guys in the row behind me had a different mind. They were angry. The steroids, the losing, the lying about his age, the shortstop situation post-Miggy, it was too much for them, and they wanted Tejada to know it, and I couldn't blame them.
But in the row in front of me there was a 7-year-old, wide-eyed, in his Tejada jersey t-shirt that looked like he had folded it away neatly and sadly when Miggy was traded away. And he couldn't take his eyes off the loud and justified hecklers two rows behind him. He looked devastated. Why would anybody boo my hero?
Baseball's a funny game. So is life. It's real funny what sticks with you.
"I always say that I love this city, I love this team, I love the guys that they have in here. I would love to never leave here."
I remember sitting in my dad's kitchen eating Saturday breakfast and reading the news that the Orioles had signed former MVP Miguel Tejada in December of 2003. I remember reading about how Tejada wanted to play on the same field that Cal Ripken had played on, how the Orioles weren't going to be losers anymore. And it all felt really possible and imminent. The Orioles were finally spending money, bringing in top-flight free agents with Tejada and Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro. My heart was racing.
Tejada was no disappointment, either. He put up the best year of his very good career in 2004, and the Orioles a high-water mark with 78 wins. To say 78 wins was the high-water mark says everything you need to know about the Tejada Years in Baltimore, and of course you all know the rest about the B-12 shots and the trade demands, and how my racing heart faded into dull weariness and idle anger.
I remember where I was when Tejada got traded to Houston. I was in class at college now and got the text message and had to go for a walk. I was excited. The Orioles were finally rebuilding! I wasn't just happy. Finally! A plan! And Tejada got out of Baltimore at last, to a winning environment, where he'd have the opportunity to start over. It was hard to figure who wasn't happy with this outcome. My heart was pumping. A grin was stenciled on my face.
"I already told the team that the only team that I can be coaching when I retire is here. I love it here. In my heart, I’m one of the Orioles. I feel like this is the team that gave to my family."
I remember where I was last winter when the Orioles brought Tejada back. Jaded and broken by Andy MacPhail's winter before it was in the mode around the interweb, I was struck by one sensation when I saw Miggi don the black and orange hat again: this was weird.
Why was Tejada back here, where the Orioles were looking to turn the corner, but where we certainly weren't going to be competing? Hadn't he been a terrible clubhouse cancer last time around, demanding and rescinding trades in his furtive attempt to escape Baltimore? Why come back? What did he hope to gain? And seeing him back in uniform on Opening Day, sitting in a bar in Dundalk surrounded by new friends in my post-college life, was weird. It didn't feel good, it didn't feel bad. I had to physically keep reminding myself that it was 2010.
So much had changed. The Orioles were the young and exciting team ready to make their mark. Tejada was wearing number 9 now, having passed the torch and number 10 to Adam Jones, one of baseball's most exciting young players. It felt weird, but it also felt hopeful. I was past the point of letting my hopes and heart rate to get up, but it was an exciting point for what it was.
To say that it once again turned to ash is a vast understatement. I remember - and I think it'll be the overriding memory of this horrible season - sitting in the outfield stands in Washington, watching the Orioles toil against the Nationals in my new home city of D.C. and I was angry. These guys - these "Orioles" - weren't even trying. Corey Patterson was spinning his glove around. And the fact that Corey Patterson was even here again felt like a cruel joke. What year was this, again?
When Tejada was traded to San Diego, he showed class in his comments. All too often I've seen players get traded or sign elsewhere and then turn around and blast the Orioles' organization. Tejada himself did it more or less, when he came back with the Astros. But now he was showing class, saying the right things. But he took it farther. He was saying how he wanted to come back, how he had seen and lived the nightmare that is the Baltimore Orioles, and he still loved them. He couldn't picture himself anywhere else. And that's me.
That's me. I am Miguel Tejada. I am a Baltimore Oriole. I hate this losing, I can't describe the way it feels to live this life. I'm a baseball lifer ever since that game against the Blue Jays or the Athletics, and these Orioles are my family. I can't imagine ever leaving them, even for all their many flaws. And maybe now this is what I'll always remember about this season. Maybe, after all of the steroids and the lying and the trade demands, this is how I am going to remember Miguel Tejada: as an Oriole. If I still had his jersey, I would fold it neatly and sadly and put it away until next time.
"I think my heart belongs to the Orioles."