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Spitballin’

Spitballin’

Cold Beer Here

Legendary Orioles broadcaster and the unofficial voice of summer in Baltimore for over three decades, Chuck Thompson used to ask a very simple question: “Ain’t the beer cold?” Though the question may have been rhetorical, it remains a damn good one. First off, it’s binary, either yes or no, and secondly, it involves beer, and that is always a good thing, so let’s come up with an answer.

The Orioles’ season ended with the loss of a five-game series to the New York Yankees, which would seem to indicate a very warm and crappy beer. Like maybe a Narragansett Light, drunk from a rusty can opened with lawn sheers and served at about 32 degrees above ambient temperature. Kind of a thin and shitty hops stew, really, with the lingering resentment and feelings of Baltimore-inferiority that come with any NYC-shellacking.

Then there’s the seeming decline of the Ravens’ vaunted defense. The team allowed over 200 yards rushing to the Chiefs and Cowboys in consecutive games, an ignominious concession that the Ravens had never before allowed in back-to-back weeks in their entire history. The cherry on the top of that Turd Sundae (Ben and Jerry’s third-least-popular flavor, after Jerry Sandusky’s Roofies and Cream and Phish Food) was a pair of serious injuries to the team’s shutdown cornerback, Lardarius Webb, and all-galaxy linebacker and beating heart of the D, Ray Lewis—both of whom could likely be out for the season. When viewed in conjunction with the Orioles’ elimination, the beer is not only warm and Narragansett-y, it also seems to have been pooped in by a duck.

Of course, there are some cold-beer indicators as well. The Ravens’ hodge-podge offensive line has some issues but has managed to keep Joe Flacco alive and open some big holes for the purple dynamo, Ray Rice. And speaking of those guys, Joe Flacco has been smart and gutsy on the field and is backing up his words with some damn good football. And little Ray has been positively electric—in fact, he may be the most dangerous weapon in football. There’ve been some concerns that he hasn’t gotten the touches he should, but long-term, keeping him healthy and getting rookie Bernard Pierce some game-time reps is solid thinking. The Ravens are already a commanding two games up on the Bengals in the AFC North, and two and a half up on the floundering Steelers. They are sitting on a head-to-head victory over their perennial playoff foils, the New England Patriots. Their only loss came against the Eagles and the replacement refs, and their 5-1 record ties them with the Texans, who they’ll be playing this Sunday, for the best record in the conference. A fifth consecutive playoff appearance looks likely. A win over those Texans, and it will be hard to discount the Ravens as the best team in the AFC. You know, that Narragansett is starting to look more like a Silver Bullet and the mountains are shifting blue.

And yeah, the Orioles didn’t win the World Series, but the O’s shocked the baseball world and rocked this city to its foundation. When the Birds’ buses got back to Camden Yards at 1:51 A.M. Saturday morning, after the heartbreaking final loss in the Bronx, hundreds of fans were waiting to say thank you. I’m just spitballin’ here, but I don’t think hundreds of people line up to thank you for warm beer.

The Orioles lost to the Yankees, who’ve been to the playoffs 16 of the last 17 seasons and have the highest payroll in baseball. If you were to take the Yankees payroll of $197,962,289 this year, then subtract the Orioles $81,428,999 and the reigning World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals’ payroll of $110,300,862, you’d still have $6,232,428. That’s enough to buy 804,184 Natty Bohs at Camden Yards (plus a $2 tip). To give you some perspective, if you were to line up those 804,184 Bohs end to end, it would be enough beer to last me five 15-inning games. And what did the Yankees’ extra $116,533,290 and 16 playoff appearances get them? One win. This season, our baby Birds played the Yanks 23 times; the Yanks won 12 and O’s won 11.

And this is just the beginning. The O’s bullpen, with apologies to the Rays, is the best in baseball and looks to remain largely intact for next season. The starting rotation was been tough to keep track of but had gelled into something very special by the end of the season. Jason Hammel and atypical rookies Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez look to be a more-than-solid nucleus to build around, and the future looks even brighter, with 2011 and 2012 first-round picks Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman burning up the minors. The Orioles have a thrilling core of young position players. Nick Markakis, the old man of the outfield, is only 28 and signed for two more seasons. Adam Jones is 27 and will be a Bird until 2018. Matt Wieters is just 26 and Manny Machado, at 20, became the second-youngest player in 143 years of Major League Baseball to hit a home run in the postseason. Add to the mix skipper Buck Showalter, who was brilliant all year and is the odds-on favorite to win Manager of the Year, and suddenly Birdland is starting to look like a heck of a nice nest for free agents looking to fly the coop. And with both the O’s and the Nats having had killer seasons, there’s a bit more MASN money to play with and, judging by the impeccable moves he made all season, Dan Duquette will know how to spend it. It looks like all our hometown Birds are set to fly.

Ms. Agnes, prepare for battle, the beer in Baltimore is exceedingly cold.

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