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Spitballin’

Yankee Hate Machine

I took a moment to savor the feeling in my hands, still stinging from the hammer-handed kid in the row in front of me who punctuated every great Orioles play with a high-five with the power of Thor.

It’s pushing 2 A.M. on Monday morning and I spent most of the weekend wondering just what I’d write about this week. At first, I thought I’d write about Abner Doubleday and how his reported creation of baseball has him, at the very least, tied with the good Lord himself in the all-time annals of creating stuff, but I thought that might be a little crunchy, so I figured I’d write about the Wild Card game and how Joe “Colonel” Saunders and the Big Game Birds stepped up and pantsed two-time defending AL champions the Texas Rangers.

Then I started feeling a mite maudlin and decided to write about the 50-year-old guy I’d never met who stood up after that game—tears pushing at the corners of his eyes—and toasted baseball and his dad and made me love him for reminding me of how much I love baseball and my dad. Two days later and two hours into the two-hour and 26-minute rain delay, I was convinced I’d write about what it was like trying to type with only three fingers having survived the frostbite, and how the stairwells of Camden Yards full of huddled O’s fans looked like a hobo camp with fewer banjos and more $10 Budweisers, but I abandoned that idea when the weather broke. Through most of Game One of the ALDS, I was sure I’d be writing about the genius of Buck Showalter and how the O’s trounced the Bronx Bums as the gods of baseball surely wished. But in the top of the ninth, I knew I’d be writing about Matt Bleach.

When I was a chubby nerdling, Matt Bleach was the most savage lacrosse-playing bully on the mean streets of Rosedale. He was 13 or so and loved firing water-pump rockets at my doughy 9-year-old ass. Once, during a blizzard, he took my boots, put them on my sled, pushed it down the hill on Sagramore Road, then knocked my head into the curb. At that moment, I hated with a hate bigger than any hate I’d ever hated with. Then, in the top of the ninth, as all-star closer Jim Johnson’s 93-mph heater kissed the bat of Yankee’s catcher Russell Martin and set sail over the left-field fence, a man four rows in front of me, who’d been sitting on his hands the entire game, rose from his seat. His navy-blue hat glowed with an inner-douchey light and the pinstripes of his Jeter jersey seemed poised to slice all of the good out of the ether. He turned his back on the field, faced the sea of orange behind him, yelled, “That’s how we do it in Yankee Stadium!” into the face of an elderly O’s fan, then quietly slipped out of the park a few pitches later.

I don’t know if your heart holds your hate, but if it does, mine grew three sizes that day with a hate that made me think maybe Matt Bleach wasn’t so bad after all. Compared to this guy, I might put Bleach on my Christmas card list.

Then I remembered the Orioles have been counted out before and they’ve always buckled down. I thought about Darren O’Day’s sweet seventh, a little slice of beauty topped with Robert Andino’s perfect play to the plate that kept the game knotted—that, I’ll take with me to my grave. I reveled in the Birds going toe-to-toe with the $200 million Yanks for eight amazing innings. And then I tried to talk just to hear my voice crack and feel the pain in the back of my throat that reminded me of the joy of screaming my voice away with 45,000 of my fellow Baltimoreans. I took a moment to savor the feeling in my hands, still stinging from the hammer-handed kid in the row in front of me who punctuated every great Orioles play with a high-five with the power of Thor. I reminisced about the lady in the row behind me who stopped smacking me with her orange towel in order to tell me about the day last September when her little girl was born two months early and lay in the NICU next to a baby named Fenway, and how the moment when her little girl pulled through was the moment the Orioles became the Orioles again.

And after I thought about all of that and how there’s still a lot of baseball left to play, I didn’t really care so much about that douche-bag Yankees fan. For all I know, he works with Matt Bleach as a mop boy at the Apex Theatre and I’m OK with that. I’m glad they’ve both got work that plays to their strengths, that fits their character. It’s like all that hate had been mopped away, mopped away by the magic of Orioles baseball!

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