Of all of the memorable moments of the champagne-and-beer-soaked celebration after the Orioles clinched the American League East for the first time since 1997, the one that stands out the most is this: Adam Jones, with 2014 AL East Champions flag in tow, standing in the middle of a group hug with the Orioles grounds crew, all of them hopping up and down like crazy. Who thinks of celebrating with the grounds crew? Adam Jones, that's who.
Jones did not stop there. If they let him do it, he might have trekked across the entire Baltimore area looking to celebrate with fans. Even confined to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he made all of Baltimore - all of Birdland - feel like part of the party. Still holding that division championship flag, Jones trotted around the length of the warning track, high-fiving every fan he could reach all the way around the stadium.
When you think of a player taking a lap around Camden Yards, the first thing that comes to mind is the stately procession of Cal Ripken Jr. as the 2,131st consecutive game became official. Forced out of the dugout by his teammates to acknowledge the curtain call, Cal then found himself pushed along the warning track, high-fiving fans all along the way. Once he'd started, he just kept going until he'd made a circuit of the stadium. That's Cal in a nutshell: He just kept going.
For Jones, the lap was more about unscripted exuberance. He could not get enough, and neither could the fans. As he reached the center field bleachers, where he couldn't high-five the fans because they were too far away, he tried to throw beer on them, with a couple of teammates who tagged along to join him keeping him stocked. Ordinarily, getting beer spilled on you at a stadium is a recipe for a bad night, but this time we can make an exception.
After rounding the left field corner and heading back towards home plate, the fans started to bring the celebration to Jones. As he leaned in to a group of fans down the left field line, a woman stopped him to take a picture together and clung to him longer than necessary. He didn't seem to mind.
A little farther down the line, a child waited for him, holding up a WWE-style championship belt, like the kind of thing Jones always takes with him to the All-Star Game. This belt was customized for the Orioles. The young O's fan presented the belt to Jones, who carried it with him. He earned it. He is a division champion.
Here is the belt, temporarily in the care of Delmon Young:
As Jones reached the visiting dugout, he wasn't quite ready to give up the party just yet. The dugout was empty, so he stepped in there and skipped along through, jumping up to high-five the hands of fans who were stretching over the top to reach him. Everyone wanted to get to touch Jones and he was happy to oblige.
Outside of the victory lap, there were the pies. Throughout the season, after big home wins, Jones has been the pie master, delivering Dangerously Delicious Pies right from his hands into teammates faces, usually while they were in the midst of a MASN post-game interview. Many people were pied following Tuesday's victory. Jones finally got the notoriously stoic Nick Markakis with a pie. Darren O'Day was pied for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Jones has pied teammates all season. He was ready to get someone new.
With a stadium full of fresh marks, there was only one thing to do:
This was not the only fan who received a pie in the face. After this, Jones went back to the dugout and retrieved another couple of pies and blasted another pair of fans full in the face with deliciousness. They only showed three such pie deliveries on television, although my friend and fellow blogger Stacey, who was there in the stadium, believes there were more. They were the lucky ones.
Jones even popped up behind manager Buck Showalter, with pie in hand, during a MASN interview. Buck demurred on getting pied, saying, "Save that for game seven of the World Series." We will hold you to that, Buck. Maybe there will even be a chance to pie you sooner than that.
If this was a movie, this is the kind of scene where you would know the team is going to go ahead and win the World Series, buoyed by the incredible support of fans who were starved for good Orioles news for so long. After all, the Orioles haven't celebrated a division title at home since 1969. Dan Duquette quipped that they were going to party like it was 1969, but actually they partied like it was 2014.
Cell phone cameras were everywhere in the hands of players and wives, and at least a couple of players, like Nelson Cruz, taped cameras to their helmets to capture everything. Little Orioles children ran all over the field, eventually congregating near the mound where the Oriole Bird played the role of the world's coolest babysitter. The adults all celebrated. Players and their wives took it in together. Ubaldo Jimenez sat in the dugout next to his parents, a smile on his face. They all earned it.
Of course, this isn't a movie. The Orioles aren't destined to win because that's what's in the plot. Or maybe it turns out this season is really another team's movie. They could get swept by the Tigers in the ALDS, lose a hard-fought six game series against the Angels in the ALCS, or run into Clayton Kershaw twice on the way to a defeat in the World Series. The Orioles are in the postseason, but a lot of good teams make the postseason every year, and only one of them can win.
Where the ride will come to a stop, no one knows. For now, the Orioles are the American League East champions. They got to celebrate that with a stadium full of fans. It was a special night for everyone. There might be an even more special night not too far in the future.
The Orioles are good enough to get there. They aren't a fluke team any more. This is the third good season in a row, and this could be the year they break through and win it all.