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Spitballin’

Legacy of Pain

I worried I was introducing my son to a lifetime of hopeless misery with sporadic moments where the O’s rise to the level of disappointment.

As a dad, I wasn’t sure I was going to go through with it. Sure, my grandparents did it to my dad, and he did it to me, but when I looked at my baby boy, I wasn’t sure I could put him through that pain. It seemed so gratuitous, to inflict this agony on my boy with no discernible upside—just for the sake of a musty old tradition—but this year, I decided to go ahead and do it. I introduced my son to the Orioles.

It’s been 29 years since the Orioles won the 1983 World Series. The Orioles’ last pennant has been old enough to drink since 2004. Think of it this way, if you have a hamster (or, less likely, are a hamster), you’ll have to go back 10 hamster generations to find an ancestor who saw the O’s win it all. Mr. Toothy Van Stinksworth would have to ask his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather what it was like seeing the O’s hoist the pennant.

And it’s not like most of those years have been close. The Orioles have won the AL East exactly once in the ensuing 29 years and have racked up 20 losing seasons, including the last 14 in a row, along the way. Back in the ’50s, when American industry ruled the world, they used to say rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel. Well, these days rooting for the Orioles is like rooting for U.S. Steel. So why would I choose to put my son through this?

It was hard. He’s too young to know what it all means, but when I tucked him into his first Markakis jersey then slipped the little stuffed Oriole bird into the crib next to him, I worried I was introducing him to a lifetime of hopeless misery, with sporadic moments where the O’s somehow manage to defy the odds and show enough promise to climb to the level of disappointment.

Then the season started and the O’s were winning and, like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe. The Orioles have flirted with relevance before, though, and when it came time to seal the deal, they gave mediocrity a peck on the cheek, thanked it for dinner, then scurried back into their shack built of failure. But it really was starting to feel different. On Friday, May 25, the Orioles advanced to 29-17, were all alone in first place, and set a team record for walk-up attendance: near 11,000 fans headed down to the Yard without tickets because they were beginning to believe. One day later, management put a cherry on top of the Hope Sunday when they parked a truck full of cash in front of Adam Jones’ house and, in a most un-Angelosian move, signed the 27-year-old center fielder to a 6-year deal.

I’d like to say I saw this coming, and that’s why I brought baseball into my boy’s life, but I didn’t, and I was right not to, because as much as I hate to say it, like the practical jet pack, it was just a beautiful dream. The Orioles are still scuffling, having, as of this writing, just won two of three from the Yankees, and they’re still in the playoff hunt. But since that great day in May, the Orioles have gone 26-33, fallen into third place in the AL East, and despite their overall winning record, have been outscored 499 to 439.

The most damning evidence, however, came on July 31, when the trade deadline came and went. After 14 straight losing seasons, you’d think the team would do whatever it could to break that streak, but GM Dan Duquette stood pat. Admittedly, outside of a few stellar prospects led by Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado, the Orioles’ farm system doesn’t provide the firepower to make the big move. But the team just has too many holes to fill. Starting pitching is spotty and plagued by injuries. They’ve been able to hit home runs, but no one’s setting the table, and they currently lead the league in errors, and the one move they are talking about making is bringing in pitcher Derek Lowe, who is just shy of his 378th birthday. Even inside the Warehouse, they don’t think this is the Birds’ year.

So why do I still dress my boy in his tiny Markakis jersey? Maybe I think every life needs a little tragedy, that suffering is good for you, and that being an Orioles fan is like eating spinach oatmeal. Or maybe I wanted to share something with him, something we could love together, and maybe there’s a part of me that thinks the O’s will actually turn it around, and he’ll grow up with memories like I had in the ’70s. That the O’s are in good hands with Buck Showalter at the helm, and their young stars are starting to put it all together, and they’re so close to being winners. But I think mostly I had to do something to shut my family up, and it was this or get him baptized.

Going deep since Aught-Dickety:

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