If there was ever a baseball team in my lifetime that deserved to go on forever, it was the 2014 Orioles. Their 96-win dominance of the American League East was a unique achievement in my adult lifetime and it was made all the more sweet by the fact that the cadre of pundits, experts, talking heads, and other opinion-generating barnacles who cling to the hull of baseball did not see it coming before the season started.
Unfortunately, it is not the way of either life or baseball for things to last forever. Time is always moving, much as we might have liked to freeze things in the very moment where Delmon Young's double gave the Orioles the lead in the ALDS against the Tigers. It isn't 2014 any more. The team's circumstances have changed and players have gotten a year older. That's a good thing for some of them, a bad thing for others.
In the flurry of activity right around the trade deadline, the current Orioles had two members of the 2014 team depart. Bud Norris, gone to the great DFA in the sky, and Tommy Hunter, off to the revitalizing machine for Orioles pitchers that is the Cubs franchise. Without either one the 2014 season would not have been what it was. They'll be Orioles in our hearts forever, if not on our roster.
Many others have moved on before now, of course, over the offseason, or even for some earlier this season. One by one they will all depart. The pessimist in me remembers the scene from the church in Band of Brothers, where Sgt. Lipton recites the names of the wounded and the dead and on the screen, the faces of the departed vanish like ghosts. They were there once. They are gone now.
The optimist in me thinks instead of the fountains in front of the Bellagio, from the end of Ocean's Eleven. They came together, those men, all with different skills and personalities, and they pulled off the caper of a lifetime. There they stand, admiring something beautiful, for a little while at least, then one by one they head off into the night, the myriad paths that brought their lives together for that special accomplishment diverging once more.
Norris came to us from Houston, a back of the rotation starter who looked like nothing special, at least until 2014 when he started deploying a change-up that neutralized left-handed hitters against him. Then his quirks like pointing at every pop-up with enthusiasm became endearing, and the sheer swag of Norris when he threw a pitch that he already knew was the third strike so he just started walking towards the dugout as soon as he threw it.
Both moves were on display in this, his finest hour:
Bud is Birdland.
Hunter came to us from Texas, a starting pitcher at one time, though that was not his fate. Nor was it his fate to be the closer, though he was that for a while too. A guy in the bullpen who could come in, throw hard, and do what you needed to do - yes, that was Tommy. When was he at his best, do you think?
Perhaps it was that 18-inning marathon in Seattle, where, with bird shit on his cap, while on the other side of the world the people of London arrived to work, Hunter plowed through the 16th and 17th innings, getting one of those improbable 2012 wins? Or was it this GIF, in which Tommy is the star even though he's not the one who hit the home run?
Or perhaps it was the division-clinching celebration in Baltimore, when Tommy emerged from the Orioles clubhouse and onto the field clutching as many bottles of beer as he could against his chest. On his face was the same expression a man would make who, standing next to an ATM, suddenly found it spouting out bills in every direction. He grabs it all, clutches his haul haphazardly, looking around for the person to tell him it was all a joke, that he must give it all back. What a beautiful man.
It wasn't a joke. The Orioles won the AL East and they got to clinch in front of the home crowd.
Here he is blowing 97mph past Alex Rodriguez in Game 4 of the 2012 ALDS, which the Orioles awesomely won in New York:
Tommy is Birdland.
The whole of the 2014 season was Birdland. Every Orioles player brought something that only he could bring to the team. The business of baseball demands that they move on from the Orioles of the present day, but neither they nor any of the rest will ever be forgotten.