The last time the Orioles were in the American League Championship Series, I was in ninth grade. It was 1997, a time that seems so long ago - two decades ago now, a century in the past, in the previous millennium, even - and yet, can it have really been that long? I was there. Most of you probably were too, with varying degrees of awareness of the sports world.
I cannot summon up a memory of the 1997 Orioles. I remember the 1996 team quite vividly, with the postseason punctuated as it was by the interference of Jeffrey Maier and the incompetence of Rich Garcia. Those names were immediately etched into my consciousness, marked to be reviled for the remainder of my days.
I know what happened to the 1997 O's because I'm sure I read about it later. I've seen highlights and I've talked to people who are still haunted by the ghost of Armando Benitez. I don't think I watched a game of the postseason. Maybe I was at marching band practice, maybe I was doing homework (although my 9th grade teachers would probably say this one is not very likely), maybe I was at a friend's house playing Mario Kart 64 or knocking around plastic lightsabers.
The idea of the Orioles not being good wasn't something that had ever occurred to me. They'd been at least sorta decent, if not good, ever since Oriole Park at Camden Yards was brand spankin' new in 1992. I always heard from my dad about them being good historically. Of course they'd just keep being good. So why worry about one year? Yeah, about that...
Well, I know better now, and so do you. Every good Orioles team is something to be savored. You never know when it will come again.
Fans of the O's ALCS opponents, the Royals, must surely be going through this same feeling. For them, the postseason drought has stretched on since 1985, the last time they won the World Series. While they never had the embarrassing long losing season streak like the Orioles did, that's only because of a brief interruption where they had an 83-win season in 2003. Otherwise, such a streak would have extended from 1995 until last year.
Kansas City lost 100 games four times in the 2000s. In 2005, they finished 43 games out of first place as they allowed 935 runs. They were a media laughingstock in the same way as the O's were as they bumbled along from one fruitless-seeming plan to the next. Now, with those same media discounting them even as a plan has finally come together, they have made it back to the ALCS for the first time in the living memory of a whole lot of people.
Obviously, all of this happened on Earth, but it was quite a different world. Here's a little look at some of what's changed from October 16, 1985 (ALCS Game 7) and October 15, 1997 (ALCS Game 6) to now, when the two teams are set to play in this year's ALCS.
|Billboard #1 Song||"All About That Bass" - Meghan Trainor||"Candle in the Wind 1997" - Elton John||"Take On Me" - a-ha|
|#1 Box-Office Film||Gone Girl (star: Ben Affleck)||Kiss the Girls (star: Morgan Freeman)||Commando (star: Arnold Schwarzenegger)|
|#1 Nielsen-rated TV Show||Sunday Night Football (NBC)||Seinfeld (NBC)||The Cosby Show (NBC)|
|Newest mobile phone||iPhone 6||Nokia 2110||Motorola 8500X|
|Big world news||ISIS; Ebola in Africa||Death of Princess Diana (August)||Beginning of Iran-Contra affair (August)|
|Gallon of gas ($)||$3.30||$1.26||$1.20|
|Super Bowl champion||Seattle Seahawks||Green Bay Packers||San Francisco 49ers|
|Wimbledon champions (men/women)||Novak Djokovic; Petra Kvitova||Pete Sampras; Martina Hingis||Boris Becker; Martina Navratilova|
|NCAA Men's Basketball tournament winner||Connecticut||Arizona||Villanova|
|Winner of the Preakness Stakes||California Chrome||Silver Charm||Tank's Prospect|
In 1997, if you were in school, you'd probably never had such a thing as a lockdown drill; if you were a parent, you'd never worried about them. You could go roam around past the security checkpoint in an airport terminal just for fun. The Internet looked kind of like this. It's been a while.
For Royals fans, it's even longer. If there's one real unfortunate thing about this series, it's that no matter what, one of these long-suffering fanbases must come up short. Kansas City, no offense, but I hope it ends up being you. The Royals have won a World Series in my lifetime. The Orioles have not - but maybe this can be our year.