Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Magic


            1997 was a long time ago.  I hadn’t learned to read.  The top grossing film was Titanic.  Bill Clinton was still the President of the United States.  South Park had its debut on Comedy Central.  Manny Machado was in kindergarten.  The Orioles were on their way to their last winning season for the next 15 years.
            The birds went wire-to-wire, finishing 98-64, while maintaining their spot atop the AL east for the entirety of the season.  They became only the seventh team in history to accomplish the feat.  It was their second season in a row making the playoffs.  Orioles Magic was in full flight.  I was 3.
            I grew up in an era when it was sad to be an Orioles fan.  Injuries, trades, and senior citizens in uniforms all contributed to our plight.  We had an owner who wouldn’t do what it takes to win, and managers who couldn’t do anything to stop the landslide.  It only took a few years for my dad to sell the season tickets.
            Besides, it was easy to go to a game.  Just show up; ask for the best seats in the house.  The tickets wouldn’t be expensive.  We still went to a game or two every year, but after a while losing gets old.  We’d go to the Yankees game, and the navy Jeter t-shirts would outnumber their orange counterparts, no fail.
            This was my reality.  We couldn’t win.  We didn’t know how.  Even the years that we started out hot, everyone knew that by August we’d have fallen off the map.  Forget about the playoffs.  Beating the Yankees once or twice in a season was the most we could hope for.
            Then, something finally gave.  After firing yet another manager, the O’s were due for some new leadership.  We brought Buck Showalter on board and he vowed to bring us back to relevance in the league.  We put “Baltimore” back on the away jerseys.  We reincarnated the cartoon bird—instantly raising the value of our flat-brims.  A new season was coming, and we were ready to go.
            I went to the game on my birthday, April 11.  The Orioles were playing the Yankees.  After losing in extra-innings the night before, I liked our chances.  A week into the season and we were still in the running.  I was a happy camper.  The game was a good one, but for the second night in a row, the Yankees got the win in extras—10 innings, 6-4.  It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for on my birthday, but I’d take it.  After all, I never got much more than a nice night at the ballpark with my friends when I went to see the Orioles.
            That was the last time the Orioles lost an extra innings game this year.  Since then, they’ve won 16 in a row, one away from the all-time record 1949 Cleveland Indians’ streak of 17.  This goes along with their remarkable 27-9 record in one run games.
            So now, with 2 days left in the regular season, the Orioles have clinched a spot in the playoffs.  They’re one game back from the Yankees for the lead in the division.  Orioles Magic is back.
            There are a myriad of possibilities that could await them in the coming week, perhaps even traveling to Oakland for a one game playoff.  That doesn’t matter.
We might not win the World Series.  We might not even last 2 games.  But I don’t even care.  The sensation of winning is so foreign to me that I hardly know how to react.  The Orioles are back in the playoffs, and that’s more than I could have ever dreamed of.