Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Orioles Fever: It's Better Than Swine Flu!

I have to preface this blog entry by stating that I never paid much attention to baseball. I'm basically a football guy. Baseball's leisurely pace makes me squirm and the emphasis on statistics bores me to tears. The only reason why I started watching the Orioles games last summer was because there was some early rumors that the team might actually turn a corner and become good again. I remembered how fans used to be so buzzed on the Orioles back when they had players named Brooks and Boog and later Cal and Eddie, so I thought perhaps 2008 was going to be the year that I caught me some O's fever (pronounced "Oeu's fever" if you are a Baltimore native).

Well, the first half of last season, the team was playing fairly well, lightly touching upon that all-important .500 winning percentage. Winning as many as you lost seemed to indicate that we might actually stay in the running, but something wasn't quite right. You could sense that, in the games we did win, we were struggling mightily. The wins didn't come easily or decisively. I suspected that, as the season wore on, fatigue and injuries would take their toll and the team wouldn't be able to hold on. By July, my prediction started to come true. The losses became more frequent. This would not be their big, break-out year. I stopped watching.

This season, even the local sports reporters, who normally act as cheerleaders for the team, were talking about "rebuilding" and "transition," so I knew this year was not going to go well. At least I haven't been disappointed. What makes this year worse is that I don't get that sense, as I had last year, that the players are really pushing hard for a win. There's an initial burst, followed by lethargy and disinterest coming down the stretch. I know it may be unfair of me to say that sitting on my couch eating pretzels, but that's what it looks like no matter what the players say. In fact, watching the games this season feels a bit like the movie Groundhog Day with the same game played over and over again with the same result. Most games this season have gone something like:

- The O's batters come out strong and put several runs on the board early.
- The starting pitcher shows some competence and contains the opposing team for five or (if we're lucky) 6 innings.
- During the 6th inning (or maybe 7th), the starter wears out and either loads the bases or allows a run, so Dave Trembley trots out and takes the ball away from the starter. One of the relievers comes out and this is when it gets ugly.
- The opposing team runs rings around the reliever and racks up more runs than we have.
- The batters, who did so well early on, suddenly forget how to hit a ball. On a good night, we might get one more run, but usually the team cannot score again.
- The opposition wins. Jim Hunter and Rick Dempsey show up to throw around a bunch of statistics rather than just saying, "The Orioles suck!" and calling it a night.

I know this sounds like an oversimplification, but after watching Chris Ray give up 7 runs to the Yankees within 10 minutes of reaching the mound last night, I have to wonder how much more of this pain I can endure. What's the point of having decent starting pitchers if the relievers are going to throw away all the hard work in just a few minutes? Peter Schmuck wrote an article for the Baltimore Sun today talking about the Orioles' new era on the horizon. His view is that young players like Matt Weiters and David Hernandez, possibly injected into the lineup this June, will bring about some kind of change. I don't see how some new blood is going to change a team that has been struggling for over a decade. I guess I'm not a big enough fan to drink the orange Kool-Aid.

I remember back in the 80s, I would sit with my grandfather on warm summer nights and chat while the Orioles were playing on TV. My grandfather watched every game. He was a fan at a time when the Orioles were consistently good. Their quality was almost taken for granted. I envied his excitement over a winning team. We had just lost my beloved Baltimore Colts, who slipped out of town after breaking my heart for five or so seasons. Now I have the Ravens and watching sports is exciting again, but I need a summertime fix. I really want to become an O's fan, but I need a good reason. So far, that reason has elluded me.