“Stupid Orioles,” said my dad.
He presses down on the remote’s “back” button, sending us quite suddenly back to Philadelphia. Its a moment that’s occurred several hundred times before; its a moment destined to occur hundreds of times after tonight. But on a given summer evening, when the Phils go to commercial, he sneaks over to MASN, where the Orioles are usually killing themselves. Sometimes he tunes in and they have a lead to blow. Other nights, they’re already getting brutalized by another squad’s JV team. The point is, it’s usually awful. And yet, he keeps coming back.
Dad goes off on a diatribe about which ever young, unfamiliar face is mostly to blame for tonight’s fire and brimstone.
“Josh Bell is completely incompetent.”
“Who the hell is the… Davis?… oh come on.”
” That Bird is stupid and it should… (*sees wife standing in doorway*) … its real stupid.”
I imagine his heart is still smeared on the tire treads of the bus that carried the Colts out of town. This past year, he admitted to casually watching a few plays of Indianapolis games when they’re on TV, but his tone made it sound more like a shocking confession of a series of murders. As he said it, Kevin Gregg watched another save opportunity land in the gap in right center, scoring two or three Yankees, Red Sox, or whoever wasbeing troublesome at the moment.
“Stupid Orioles,” dad said.
But he didn’t say it last night.
The O’s went and got people’s hopes up in April, coming out the gate with a sweep of the Rays that culminated in a Nick Markakis, game ending, Gregg-saving catch. It quickly became a season of chasing .500, stumbling, and finally, desperate crawling between immolations. Blame the young pitching, blame the poor hitting–reality was, it was just summer in Baltimore, and there was a reason Camden Yards was mostly empty green seats.
Anybody watching last night without context or knowledge would have concluded that the Baltimore Orioles had just been crowned champions of the universe. After his walk off single with two outs and two strikes, Robert Andino started punching the sky; Mark Reynolds was bouncing down the dugout like a hippity-hop; some anonymous Oriole’s legs kicked wildly as they extended from the pile of players gathering bodies by the second. On the air, Gary Thorne, in his first season of narrating Orioles baseball, called both hits like he was in the middle of exploding–his eyes rattling in his head, painting the glass in front of him with excitable spit.
“…REIMOLD IN THE AIR, DEEP CENTERFIELD, NOBODY’S GONNA CATCH IT! THAT’LL GO UP AND OVER! THE ORIOLES HAVE–*pounds on his desk three times*–DONE IT!! THEY HAVE TIED THIS GAME UP! Nolan Reimold! TWO DOWN! BEHIND IN THE COUNT! NINTH INNING! IT’S 3-3!!!”
He says something about the baseball gods and his broadcasting partner, Jim Palmer, says nothing before chuckling patronizingly. He doesn’t know why everybody’s so excited. The O’s will finish, at best, with a 69-93 record this year. Palmer, whose attendance to the broadcast booth has been apparently based on his own selective whim, believes he doesn’t deserve to have to look at this.
But Thorne is sitting next to him, locked in. And as the last bits of Palmer’s condescension melt into the airwaves, Robert Andino puts a line drive low enough under Carl Crawford‘s glove that he can’t reach the post season.
Here, we find the hopes of Orioles fans at the end of another long season. And if you were looking for my dad, he’s out of his seat during an O’s game, but this time, it’s not to kick the cat in its ribs. Besides, nobody’s seen her since 1996 when, as a kitten, she wandered into the aftermath of Jeffrey Maier and wound up with a punctured lung.
He’s abandoned his chair, standing two inches from the screen, pointing at home plate as if Reimold needs directions there from third base. His pupils are bouncing, his voice jumps four octaves, and he becomes a guy he never gets to be.
He snaps back to the Rays game, just in time for Evan Longoria to take care of the rest.
When victory is out of reach, the goal becomes to torture your enemies. You may not have the strength to knock them over or to push them aside, but you poke and prod and stab, hoping that the collection of annoyances as a whole will snowball into an effect of some kind.
“End of season like this, [to] make Boston go home sad, crying. I’ll take it all day.”
Next year may bring more crying, more stupidity, and more frustrated channel-changing. But Baltimore, in its decade and a half of funereal marches to 162, got to have a moment that made them a part of something epic and unforgettable to a lot of people–collapse.
The Collapse belongs to the Red Sox; but the Collapsing was done in orange and black.
“Go O’s!!” dad shouted, falling back down on the couch with a satisfied smile, and after months of numbing defeat, he’s somehow ready to start over.
“See you in Sarasota,” he exclaims, and minutes later, he’s snoring; dreaming of September’s vengeance, April’s promise, and the shouts of Gary Thorne, echoing off the empty seats of Birdland.