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A paean to all the baseball I’ve never watched

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There are all sorts of ways to be a baseball fan, including being a fan who hardly ever gets to watch a game.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I've been an Orioles fan for a long time.  I haven't been the same kind of Orioles fan over all that time though.  This isn't very surprising, as I'm twenty-nine now and I estimate I was mature enough to start following and appreciating games when I was about ten or so.  My parents grew up in New Jersey and aren't really baseball fans.  If the O's hadn't made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, who knows whether I'd be writing this right now.  I have a distinct memory of my fourth grade teacher talking about how exciting it was that Cal Ripken was going to break the consecutive games played streak that night, and feeling puzzlement at what she was talking about.  So yeah, if the O's hadn't been good in 96 and 97, my parents wouldn't have watched and I wouldn't have either.

My early memories consist of sitting and talking with my mom while the game was on.  Baseball is great because it's divided into neat little parcels called innings, and if my mom told me she wanted me to go to bed, I could say "at the end of the inning, okay?". She'd agree, we'd keep talking, and the next inning would start.  I asked my mom was ERA was.  She told me what it stood for, but she didn't know how to calculate it.  Low ERA's were better, which I guess was as much as I needed to know at that time.  I'd see things like a 0.247 batting average, think, "hey, that's almost one in four! That's pretty good!"  My parents wouldn't have known better, either.

As a child without access to the Internet and teenager without inclination to read about baseball on the Internet, I didn't really appreciate how awful the late 90's to early 00's teams were.  It's probably for the best, because I might have stopped watching, or worse, adopted the Phillies or Yankees.  If I had read about baseball on the Internet, it probably would have been on ESPN or a similar site, with all of the joy and strangeness of baseball stripped away, and all of the enlightened analysis folks like Joe Morgan could provide.  (Note: I have no idea on which network Joe Morgan appeared.  I never watched it.)

My baseball fandom switched from latent to active during the 2004 season.  I had just graduated high school, and as I was seventeen, I was apparently unemployable for insurance reasons.  With nothing to do, I watched baseball.  It was joyous!  There was a new game every night!  There were exciting (and good-looking) players!  Being an Orioles fan was fun!  I didn't understand that throwing 100 pitches in five innings was bad, and I would have made excuses for Bedard (with whom I was very taken) even if I had.  And in the middle of my new-found fandom, I went to college.  I didn't have TV and wouldn't have gotten whichever channel broadcast the O's anyway.  The Orioles had become an obsession and I couldn't live without them, so I did what any millennial would have done: I turned to the Internet.

There was Gameday, courtesy of mlb.com, in 2004.  It was fairly clunky though, and slow to update.  It didn't help that my college experienced chronic Internet problems my first year there.  There's nothing like waiting for the box score of a 6-2 loss to load fifteen minutes after the game.  I read the post-games of every major outlet, hoping to see feats of strength and dubious pitches described with different adjectives.  Hoping for slightly more expansive quotes.  And then, the season was over.  And I realized how much following the Orioles made me feel connected to home.

I learned that the offseason didn't mean no baseball.  It just meant no games.  But there were still articles to read.  There were the Winter Meetings, which were a big part in my early exposure to other teams.  The Winter Meetings fell right at the end of classes and start of finals (and still do).  It was inconvenient timing because it made them hard to follow, but very convenient timing because they broke up the stress of writing papers and studying.  When I realized that the official news outlets wouldn't be able to satiate my need to connect with the Orioles, I turned to fan groups.  In early 2005, I was reading the Sunspot board, a tiny website I believe was called Birdseed, and, if my year is correct, Camden Chat.  I lurked for a long time.

Call me Goldilocks, I guess.  The Sunspot board was big and filled with manly men who were right about everything.  Birdseed was small and very polite, but its size meant it wasn't updated enough to meet my needs.  Camden Chat was just right.

At the start of 2005, the Orioles were amazing.  I remember feeling impatience to get out of lab to rush back to my dorm to see (that is, read) how the O's would win that day.  They were so good!  They were expanding on the promise they'd shown in 2004!  That summer I was home and watched every night.  I even went to a couple games.  The first game I attended was my first time driving in the city, and I only drove into the city because Mapquest gave me shit directions to a subway stop with parking.  Driving in rush hour traffic without any kind of route to follow was quite traumatic, and I'm still amazed I found a way to Charles St, which I knew by sight and parked okay.  My friend and I bought student tickets from a vendor in the plaza area because we were late and the game was about to start.  They were for the last row of the left field stands.  I don't recall of the Orioles won or lost, but I did learn two very important things: find one route into the city and stick with it, and buy your tickets in advance so you can pick them.  I think the rest of the games I went to that year, my mom drove.

I don't think I need to tell you how the season ended, but I'll summarize it anyway: the Orioles lost their shit.  I went back to college and mercifully didn't have to watch.  I could follow with Gameday, and that was enough.  And when the Orioles game was over, I started watching the Mariners' game.  My like for them predated the Bedard deal, and also my move out west.  My next three years were much the same.  Filled with spring-time optimism and enthusiasm, punctuated by time at home with TV and visits to Camden Yards, returning to school knowing I'd miss the hell out of my horrible team and looking to Camden Chat for consolation.

I started grad school in 2008 and UVA, and, maybe, things were looking up.  Not for the team, but for my ability to watch them.  MASN existed!  And I was in its broadcast region!  But in order to watch, I needed a TV and a cable package, which I was not about to spend money on.  I stuck with Gameday, which was getting fancier and fancier.  This was an annoyance because my Internet was slow in my first apartment and the fancy Gameday graphics were hard to run.  In 2011 or 2012 I bought a small radio in hopes of listening to the game broadcast, but the nearest broadcast stations were AM and the sound was shitty.  No later than the 2012 season, I caved and bought MLB Radio.  At $20 a season, I really should have done it sooner.

Grad school was an interesting time for my fandom, not least because the Orioles finally had a winning season again.  Lacking the ability to watch games in my apartment, I started developing strategies and rituals to compensate.  One of these was, obviously, go to a bar and watch.  I didn't drink in undergrad, so I didn't really feel comfortable going to bars, much less asking bartenders to put the game on.  But by 2012 I could do this easily and went to bars as often as my wallet and waistline could allow.  I learned how to drink good beer, too, which was an obvious plus.

I didn't go home for the summer though, so I was still seeing fewer games than I had been used to.  I made the most of it by going home for the weekend for the express purpose of seeing games live and in-person.  And I was learning more about the game with Fangraphs and other SABR-minded blogs.  I could finally explain to my mom what a save situation was, and why closers were overrated.  Like any self-respecting baseball fan, I miss Notgraphs.

2012 was magical.  Really.  I started posting regularly.  I had a space in which to share my Orioles fandom, just at the time they had their first winning season and playoff appearance in fifteen years.  I love the wild card game.  It will forever have a place in my heart.  A friend of mine had season tickets to the O's, and she invited me to game one of the ALDS.  It was cold and wet and long and amazing.  Even though they lost.  I never thought I'd go to a playoff game.

If you're still reading this, you're probably wondering how many more words it'll take to get to April 4th, 2016.  We're almost there.  In fall of 2013, I moved to Tacoma for a job.  Finally!  I was out of the MASN broadcast region!  I could buy MLB.tv and watch the damn games!  Except I didn't.  There was only a month left in the season and I was trying to adjust to my new job.  The radio would be fine.  I didn't in 2014, either.  I kept saying, I'll wait until the school year ends.  Then, I'm going back to MD, I don't need it.  Then, school's about to start.  I had the radio package.  I just never pulled the trigger on watching with my own eyes.  Watching with Gameday, listening to the radio, and reading as much as I could had worked for a long time.

There was also the difficulty of the games starting at 4 PM.  It was great to have Orioles baseball three hours early, but I kinda felt like, why buy MLB.tv if I can't be home to watch it?  Fortunately, I had M's games to follow at normal time.  The weekends were the best.  Sleep in, wake up, make tea, turn the game on.  I also saw the Orioles play in Seattle during the 2014 season.  Safeco's a nice park, especially if you're an Orioles pitcher.  I did watch the Orioles on TV occasionally.  Since they've stopping being terrible, they get the occasional national broadcast.  After some bad experiences at bars in Tacoma, I resorted to going up to Seattle to watch the O's on TV up there.  Let me tell you, men don't realize how creepy and intrusive they are being when they interrupt me while I'm trying to watch baseball.

I started another ritual in 2014, namely, that I wouldn't work on Opening Day.  That's not strictly accurate.  I had lecture as scheduled, but no lab.  I was outta there at 11:45. The students understood, of course.  I made cupcakes to help them understand.  In 2015, I put orange sugar crystals on the cupcakes.

So, 2015.  I didn't buy MLB tv that year either.  I feel like a bad fan, but the truth was, I hoped to move that summer and needed all the cash I could save.  And move I did!  I spent a lot of money in summer 2015, with only a little going to baseball.  But I did get to spend some weeks at my parents' house binge-watching MLB network before moving to Georgia for good.

After over a decade of spotty-at-best access, I finally budgeted for MLB tv and will be able to watch Opening Day with the rest of you.  I have Dogfish Head in my fridge.  I will make cupcakes for my students and decorate them with orange sugar crystals.  I will be out at 11:45.  I can't wait to share it with y'all.

The stories presented as part of the 2016 Camden Chat Opening Day Marathon are written by members of our community. To add your voice to the site please consider writing a FanPost.