Can The Orioles Win?
For many long-term baseball sufferers, a new Oriole season is upon us. Can the local team have a winning season this year? We talk to perennial fans – even those that have rarely seen a winning Oriole team – and also get their predictions.
By Linda L. Esterson
Each spring, Orioles fans get hyped up for the start of the new baseball season. Feelings of failure from last season are temporarily stored away with renewed optimism for the year ahead.
You’d think Orioles fans would learn. The Orioles haven’t been to the playoffs since 1997, when they lost the League Championship Series to the Cleveland Indians in six games. The series featured blown saves and late scoring by the Indians in four of the six games. The O’s lost in the same series the previous year but failed to reach the postseason for the 13 years prior, following their 1983 World Series victory.
Will we ever again have a team that we can root to the playoffs? How do our fans remain committed to a team that loses year after year? The Orioles have finished higher than fourth place in the American League East just once since 1997 and have not recorded higher than a .488 winning percentage since then.
“Baltimore baseball fans have to be happy that we have a team,” says Matt Tabb, 23, a fan since his youth. “Plenty of cities don’t have pro baseball teams. We’re not the Pirates, so we should be happy.”
The Pirates are regarded as the worst team in baseball and that team’s playoff drought dates back to 1992. Any real Orioles fan still cringes to hear of the Pirates, who stole the 1979 World Series from the O’s (and that fateful Game 7 was on my birthday!). Pittsburgh, in fact, was one of just three teams (Seattle and Arizona were the others) to win fewer games than the Orioles in 2010.
Sixteen-year-old Matt Shipley was born in Margate, Fla., and spent his first 14 years in the Sunshine State, but he has always been an Orioles fan, probably by heredity. Both of his parents hail from Baltimore, so he adopted the O’s as his own. (He also follows the Florida Marlins, another habitual loser.)
A self-proclaimed “huge Orioles fan,” Shipley sees most of the games on television and looks up the stats “pretty often.” His earliest memory is attending spring training games in Fort Lauderdale at 3
or 4 years of age. Despite the optimism of youth, it can still be tough to be an Orioles fan.
“It’s disappointing because every year we get hyped up and say we will do well, and then we go .500 and do pretty badly,” Shipley notes.
Jill Rosenthal admits to becoming more of a “fair-weather fan” with the annual woes of the O’s. Although a die-hard Ravens fan, Rosenthal, 41, breaks out her O’s hat, T-shirt and hair scrunchy to cheer on the home team.
“I would like to come back to being the fan that I was,” she says. “I do care about the Orioles even if they are losing.”
Despite the brutality of losing season after losing season, true O’s fans continue to support the team and sport the orange and black from April to October. Some trade the orange for Ravens purple come September, but with the NFL’s issues this year, we may see the orange and black through the fall of 2012.
“I love the Ravens,” Tabb says, “but we got them in ‘96. I’ve had the Orioles my whole life. As bad as they are, they’re still my team and I’m not going to change it.”
Despite the losses, Mandee Simmons remains a fan. Although she’s experienced the losing throughout her 20 years, she remembers the fun of joining her three siblings and her parents at Camden Yards, eating peanuts and cheering on the home team.
“I think Baltimore takes such pride in its sports teams,” she says. “It gives us a sense of unity in our city. It brings people together.”
There have been plenty of special moments for Orioles fans despite the team’s perennial losing record. Cal Ripken Jr. provided many of those moments.
Rosenthal remembers attending Ripken’s final game, recalling Brady Anderson making the final out with Ripken on deck. She also followed the drama with his consecutive-game streak in 1995, and the “wire-to-wire” first-place finish in 1996.
“I was sorry we couldn’t bring another World Series win (that season for Cal),” she says. “That’s when things started slipping away.”
Skylar Sklar remembers the 2131 banner unveiling, which marked Ripken’s consecutive-games record. Just 3 years old, Sklar watched on television and recalls Ripken riding around the stadium in a convertible, shaking hands with fans, teammates and opposing players. He’s been a fan all of his 18 years, following in his parents’ footsteps.
“I don’t remember them being good, but I like them a lot and I want them to win,” says Sklar, who attends about 10 games a season. “I live in Baltimore. I can’t root for another team. I can’t be a fair-weather fan.”
Sklar equates the Orioles to “a little kid who doesn’t behave well, but you still have to love it.”
“It gets frustrating when every game you go to they lose,” he adds, “but they made some changes at the end of last year. This could be a decent season, and I won’t go to as many games that they lose.”
- 85 wins
- Will have a winning record but not much more than .500. Preseason looked pretty good.
- 80 wins
- Won’t make the playoffs because of the division, but will probably win 80 games.
- Better than 2010
- Will do better, but not great. There’s a lot of hype about the new infield. Everyone is really hyped up that it will be a good season.
- 80 wins
- The lineup is a lot better, but the pitching is not where it needs to be. Can win a lot of games with hitting, but the pitching is lacking.
- More than 85 wins
- I might be crazy for saying that. We have the bats and we have the hitters this year. Buck Showalter is the best coach we’ve seen in years. Andy MacPhail is bringing the pitching and the bats, and Peter Angelos is letting him bring people in and letting him run the team.