Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Orioles Moments; An Introduction

Some moments are more defensible than others
By Matthew Taylor

I have two all-time favorite Jumbotron videos from Camden Yards. One I can defend. The other is defensible only in the “Sports changes all the rules of manliness so that it’s suddenly okay to cry and hug your male friends” way. And even then I’m still not sure it’s okay.

My indefensible favorite among Jumbotron videos used to come on at Camden prior to the home half of the 9th inning whenever the Orioles were trailing in a close game. In other words, I’ve seen it a lot.

A montage of heroic highlights – O’s players running, diving, homering, celebrating – hits the screen as Bonnie Tyler’s “Hero” blasts through the stadium speakers.

“I need a hero!!!” BOOM. “I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night.”

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da.

“I need a hero!!!”

When you’re standing in the ballpark, daydreaming about the Orioles Magic that as a kid you ranked right beside Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in terms of believability, getting chills seems okay. And besides, that line about needing a hero rocks.

But then you head home after another close loss and Google the lyrics to the song. Suddenly you realize that you were just part of a collective call for a man who “has gotta be strong … gotta be fast … gotta be fresh from the fight.” And here I always thought the words were “da da da da da ….”

At this point you feel a little dirty, so you distract yourself by starting a “To Do” list:

“To Do: Return ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to Blockbuster … After dark …Take the wife’s car.

But things get worse.

Does Bonnie Tyler really sing, “Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need”?

You heard “steed” and assumed it was a decidedly more gender-appropriate reference to “Anchorman.” But that wasn’t Ron Burgundy yelling out to Veronica Corningstone, “I'm storming your castle on my steed, m'lady.” No, it was Bonnie Tyler. And I’ll be damned if she wasn’t talking about tossing and turning and … gasp … What. I. Need.

Might as well cross the “After dark” and “Take the wife’s car” lines off of that To Do list.

Perhaps there aren’t many Oriole fans who can relate to my “Hero” experience at the ballpark. Or at least who are going to admit it. But I’m willing to bet that I could get more agreement on my other favorite Jumbotron video from Camden. Because I’m certainly not the only O’s fan who feels “like a kid again, when I am at the Yard."

Jason Siemer hit a nostalgic roundtripper with his song, “A World of Orioles Baseball.” There’s no shame to be had when you Google these lyrics.

“Orioles baseball, feel the magic where you are.
I feel like a kid again, when I am at the Yard.
Born and raised to love the game
in Baltimore, no better place.
And I am glad, that I am lost
in my own little world of baseball.
I remember the days, when I just couldn't wait
for Opening Day to arrive, what a time to be alive.
33rd Street they would play
Memorial Stadium, I'd say.
The memories still live with me
full of baseball history.”

I don’t have to be at the ballpark to get chills from this video (see it for yourself). It’s the greatest Baltimore promotional song since “Orioles Magic” (Who can forget the words, "Feel the magic happen"?) If you grew up on the O’s, you understand how I feel. Because in Baltimore, like other great baseball towns, the fans’ connection with the team goes beyond wins and losses.

The Orioles have won two league championships (1979, 1983) three division championships (1979, 1983, 1997), one Wild Card (1996), and one World Series (1983) in my lifetime. Most of those accomplishments came before I was old enough to truly follow the sport. My only real memories of the ’83 Series are Cal gloving the final out and my dad running out to the car to honk the horn. And the ‘90s success came at a price to my sanity (think Jeffrey Maier). But for all the angst associated with cheering for a losing club, including a current run of eight straight losing seasons, I have fond memories of the Orioles as a team, of individual players, and of many humid summer nights (and too few cool fall nights) spent at the ballpark.

When it comes down to it, what keeps this otherwise cynical guy cheering for a broken team playing a broken sport is the moments. The moments at the ballpark. The moments spent listening to the game on WBAL. The moments you recall in such vivid detail that it scares your significant other. (Not to mention that it makes forgetting your anniversary even more inexcusable. Because if you can remember who was catching for Tippy Martinez when he picked off three Blue Jays in ‘83, you can remember when your non-baseball romance began.)

Roar from 34 will regularly use the “Orioles Moments” feature to chronicle the memories of local writers who have been through the occasional ups and all-too-frequent downs associated with life as a Baltimore baseball fan. Hopefully some of the stories will make you feel like a kid again. And who knows, some might even leave you holding out for a hero.

3 comments:

Ogre said...

Matt: Well written...Love the "Anchorman" reference.

What's it gonna take to get the "O's Magic" back? Is it possible to win year after year in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox? The NL West sure seems more attractive and those teams will experience success by attrition -- someone has to win. The division is the small sliver of the current O's story that makes me feel sorry for them; but, then I look north to Toronto and watch the money invested in key players -- though arguments can be made against those specific players (Glaus, Burnett and Ryan). Obviously, Angelos is a problem now. But assume he's gone in a few years. Are the demographics/economics of Baltimore enough to sustain the team and allow major investments by a new owner or will the O's become the Pirates? Nice stadiums, low budgets.

Matthew Taylor said...

Thanks for the feedback, Ogre.

I sure hope the O's don't become the Pirates. What a dreadful possibility. But you're right in thinking that Baltimore needs to be more than just a town with a nice stadium.

The O's have some good young talent at this point. I think the key is to acquire some big name free agents without gutting the minor league system. Use free agency as a complement rather than a solution in itself. But even free agency is tough, particularly with pitchers, when guys know that they're going to face, for example, a tough Yankees lineup more often as a result of weighted scheduling.

The O's used the big money, roto ball approach in the late '90s and have paid dearly for it ever since. I think the Yanks are starting to see some of the perils of that approach as well. They're struggling to keep young talent and just relying on hired guns instead.

The idea of quality minor league system and focus on pitching and defense at the major league level harkens back to "The Oriole Way." Recapture "The Oriole Way" and "Orioles Magic" will follow.

Finally, I believe that the O's can compete in the toughest division in baseball. They showed that potential for a good part of last season. And I firmly believe that the Baltimore-Washington area can support two big league teams. I just hope that when Angelos sells the team he leaves something in place for a new owner to work with. (To his credit, the TV deal he finagled with MLB will provide big bucks if they ever get Nats games televised. It will be of benefit to the O's - strong local rivalry, TV money, etc. - to support D.C.'s baseball efforts at this point.)

Anonymous said...

The answer to who was catching Tippy that fateful night (and I was in the mezzanine section) says more about WHY Martinez picked off those three Blue Jays. One of my favorite O's moments too!