Sleepless in Baltimore

OPINION | Just after 11PM, Raul Ibanez got a new middle name in Baltimore and forced many Oriole fans to toss and turn all night.  ABC2's Brian Kuebler reflects on a sleepless night in Charm City.

I tried to sleep last night.

With one arm along my side and the other behind my head, I tried desperately to fall asleep; jealous of my dog's increasingly rhythmic breathing as she was nuzzled into the crook of my arm.  She's not able to comprehend the sliver of an inch that made Jim Johnson's pitch a mistake, or the breaking ball Brian Matusz should have thrown.

No.  Shea, as I named her two and a half years ago doesn't have the ability to agonize over such things, or maybe she doesn't care.  She, as her name suggests is a Mets fan like me and our team was eliminated long before last night.  An Orioles loss, while unfortunate is not our lane. We are New York Mets fans, rabid ones at that.  The Orioles are the "B" team, a distraction; adopted entertainment.

The Orioles were always my "B" team.  I was never one for American League ball, but as a college student at the University of Maryland, College Park back in the mid and late 90's, it was near impossible to escape the draw of Cal Ripken, or the ubiquitous Brady Anderson posters in every girl's dorm room. 

They were a powerhouse back then and beating the Yankees, which as a Mets fan is always appreciated.   The O's were a team worth my ancillary support I deemed back then; a charming team from a charming city.

As my career moved me around this country for the next ten years, I lost track of the O's much like this city did.  Limited to box scores and losing records, the Orioles were no longer pertinent to me.  I was busy with the Mets getting relevant in the late 90's, then not so much, then relevant again and then finally, crushing my heart in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

It was that year I landed my job at WMAR.  Too late in the baseball year to get to Camden Yards, but excited nonetheless to finally be working in a Major League Baseball town, a city I actually cared about in a region that was always my professional target.  The job felt right, this city's middle child type chip on its shoulder matched mine, and it was about damned time I started paying attention to the Orioles again.

So when a few of us at the station decided to buy season tickets to Camden Yards, I was all in.

The years that followed were filled with miserable baseball.  My friends I share Section 82 Row 6 with would wear these losses on their sleeves, hearts, faces and attitudes.  For me, I was blissfully removed from it all.  I enjoyed the park, the glimpses of talent and small victories.  The Orioles after all were never really mine, insulating me from the very visible pain felt by my friends who rooted for this team since birth.

We would entertain ourselves with loud zingers aimed at visiting left fielders and umpires, which because of an empty seating bowl frequently elicited a response. 

Nyjer Morgan, Josh Hamilton and Vernon Wells all heard us and acknowledged our barbs. Umpire Tim Timmons once walked out to left field and nearly threw us out of the game for just downright lambasting him for a blown call at second base.  No joke, he wanted the Lemonade Shakey Guy to cut us off in the 4 th inning. Shakey knew better.

It was fun, we were loud and filling the futile innings in the oppressive left field sun amusing ourselves and the ones around us, well, except for the guy who threw the mustard packet at me and a Bud Light Lime can at my friend Larry…but still, all good times.

Then came 2012.

This season had a different feel altogether.  This team was playing well, and while many didn't believe it, for the majority of this season, I all of a sudden found that I could no longer get a pretzel without missing a pitch. Our voices carried about as far as a Derek Jeter infield single.  A small change, but very noticeable when you've had the ballpark all to yourself every Sunday for three years.

Then September happened and the crowds swelled.   Like a jilted lover learning to love again, the fans came back and opened their hearts to this team.

Baltimore is indeed a baseball town again, and I can't help but think I experienced this rebirth in an exponentially organic way.

I recently heard The Wire creator David Simon on a local radio station talk about his recent piece in Sports Illustrated about the surging Orioles.  He explained to the host that the Orioles were never his team either; that it was only after the 0 and 21 start to the 1988 season that he started to follow this team.  He explained how getting in on a team during such a desolate stretch makes you a truer fancier of a baseball club.

I smiled when I heard that because I felt the same way.  There was no bandwagon in 2008, heck there wasn't even a driver.  I too got in on the bottom floor and in the absence of any meaningful baseball being played in Flushing, have been lifted from the basement with these Orioles.

For years I would challenge

any baseball fan to find something more satisfying than watching the success and maturation of a young talented core and all of a sudden, it was here and from left center field I watched every floor pass on the way to the top.

So when my cousin, a Yankees fan who relentlessly ridicules my fandom for both the Mets and Orioles, texted me Wednesday night that no matter which team I follow I can't win, I responded in kind with a diatribe punctuated with the expletive that in Baltimore now belongs squarely between "Raul" and "Ibanez."

I never slept last night as stats and "what ifs" kept filling the space I tried earlier to convince myself still existed between me and the Orioles. 

I wrote this column on the backs of my eyelids last night.  The dog slept like a rock.

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