An Open Letter To The 2014 Baltimore Orioles

Orioles Magic Clinch2Dear Orioles Players:

Congratulations on making it to the 2014 playoffs and beginning the series with two dramatic and convincing wins over the Tigers! There are a few things I want to share with you that you probably don’t know. How can you, though? More than half of you were not even born when the Orioles last won the World Series in 1983. I was 18 years old then, and already a seasoned fan since 1970 – when I became a believer in you – The Orioles – for life.

Thanks for keeping us, your fans, with you during this whole glorious ride. When you told the world in 2012 that one of your biggest goals of the season was to bring a playoff game to your fans in Baltimore, you made us believe again in the magic that you made so special to us, so many years ago. And now, in 2014, you continue to connect with us and play championship-caliber baseball while staying connected with the Baltimore fans. You just seem to get it. This is about something bigger than beating the Tigers to advance to the ALCS. You’ve found a way to tap into your youngest fans who want to be just like you, while still resonating with the older folks like me. We’ve been unconditional fans since we were those little kids listening to Chuck Thompson, Bill O’Donnell, Tom Marr, and Jon Miller call the games on the radio.

Here’s how September and October baseball happened every night when I was a kid. We would take extra time on our homework as an excuse to stay up, just so we could hear Chuck, Bill, and the others tell us how cold the beer really was when you would win that night’s game. And for those late showdowns on the west coast? We would sneak the AM radio up to our room, tuck the little white ear bud out of sight, and fall asleep to the sounds of Flanagan’s fast ball popping loudly in Dempsey’s mitt.

Those were great memories, and they’ve never left us. They were just waiting for players like all of you to wake them up, bring them back to life, and make us all feel like kids once again.

Yesterday afternoon, as I listened to Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series with Joe Angel and Fred Manfra delivering each pitch, each hit to us over the radio, I found myself back at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, sitting next to my dad in the lower reserved seats (third base side), shouting “CHARGE!” at the top of our lungs as Rex Barney announced Eddie or Cal when they would come up to the plate.

You see, that guy sitting next to me in those stands had taught me something pretty important that has stuck with me all these years. No matter how good, or how bad, we might be at the things we love, we can never give up on them, or on ourselves. We just have to keep giving it our best, and good things will come, eventually.

We never gave up on you. You are our team, and we are so grateful for reigniting those memories and that belief in you that has been with us all these years.

Rex Barney, at the end of each of his announcements, always ended with a drawn-out “THANK YOUUUUUUU” that somehow served as the thread that sewed Orioles Baseball into our hearts forever. Your unimaginable, and now unforgettable run into the postseason has taken those threads from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and has stitched a brand new ball of hope, memories, and faith for all of your fans. It’s an ageless thing, and like I said before: you get that.

And so, O’s of 2014, we tip our caps and offer you a resounding Thank Youuuuuuu for bringing back to Baltimore the magic of baseball and the rekindling of a love affair that had been dormant for a long, long time. Best of luck in your continued quest to be World Series champions, and know that you’ve got a city behind you no matter what that final score might be.

Just keep giving it your best. We’re not going anywhere. We are Orioles Fans, after all. And in this town, that means something.

The Call Heard ‘Round Baltimore

There have been so many magical moments at Camden Yards in the last 24 hours, with the Orioles taking a 2-0 lead over the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series.

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This double play in today’s fifth inning, for instance, was just unbelievable (well, not for die-hard O’s fans).

But it was this call by Orioles’ announcer Joe Angel on WBAL Radio, with the Orioles down 6-4 in the bottom of the 8th inning, that sums up everything magical about this season.

Delmon Young’s bases-clearing double

This is a wonderful time to be an O’s fan, but just as importantly, this is a wonderful time to be a baseball fan.

Good luck in Detroit, O’s. May you muster the strength and magic to sweep the Tigers with a win on Sunday!

Creative and Uncut: The Seams of Love

holding hands 3It is a mid-summer’s afternoon –late, and I am standing on the pitcher’s mound, playing catch with my son on a deserted baseball field, surrounded by other empty diamonds and rectangles. In just a few short weeks, these overgrown areas will be filled with children changing lives — late-game heroics and crushing defeats. In the end, they will all walk off the field and into the arms of sideline parents ready to congratulate

“That was a great score! You dominated!”

or console, where cheers and high-fives intermingle with hugs and the more somber tones of comfort:

“You’ll get ’em next time. Hard work pays off.”

Their dreams pure, the outcomes unknown, the responses timeless.

My son throws the ball from home plate and it makes a loud pop as it smacks the leather in my worn glove. I give him a smile.

“Good speed on the throw, son. A real zinger.”

He smiles and waits for my wind-up and toss, a pretend breaking ball that we both learned the other day while watching YouTube videos of how to throw the tricky pitch.

My pitch never breaks, and the ball sails over his head and rolls against the backstop. He shakes his head and turns to retrieve the ball.

“I don’t remember them teaching that throw on the video,” he says.

holding hands 2Just behind him, on the other side of the tall fence, a couple emerges from the woods on the footpath that winds around the perimeter of these fields. They are old, even by my standards. I look at the woman’s face, and she carries the same set of wrinkles my mother wore when she was nearing 80.

The cancer was already running through her body a good year by then, which didn’t help. And the chemo drugs made her lose too much weight, darkening those lines and creases to the point where I just wanted to put my hands to her face, smooth them back out, and give Mom a few more years, you know? Let her end this thing with some youthful dignity.

She did that with her heart, though, a love so smooth and so young that, in the end, that’s all I saw in her eyes, her smile, as she lay dying.

I haven’t forgotten that.

The tall man she is walking with seems even older, shuffling along as best he can to keep up with his ever-patient partner.

She looks ahead, ageless blue eyes that seem to smile, finding beauty in the solitude, the walk, the companionship.

He looks around, catching a glimpse of a father and son playing ball, the sparrows that dip and peck along the path–all these things, yes–with a certain appreciation. He whispers something to her, and when their eyes meet, they both smile as they continue their walk.

“Dad!”

I turn back to my son and see the ball in mid-air, coming toward my head at that same zinger speed that had just put a good pop in my mitt a minute ago.

I wince in anticipation of the pain, bringing my glove to my face in some kind of auto-jerk defense that deflects the ball and sends it rolling through the grass toward the first-base bag.

I take a deep breath, aware that I want to yell something in anger.

You could have hit me! Smashed my teeth, broken my nose, blackened my eye! What the hell were you thinking?

I say nothing, though. I can see the look in his eyes that he realizes his mistake. He doesn’t need chastising; if anything, he needs to lighten up a little on himself.

He starts to walk toward the ball, and I wave him off.

“I got it. No worries.”

I jog over to the base to get the ball and notice that the couple has passed on from our field, continuing along at the same, slow and steady pace.

holding hands 1As they crest a hill and begin to disappear in their descent, I notice that they are holding hands, and I realize that they have been since I first saw them emerging from the woods.

Fingers interlocked, a certain fluidity of love and understanding shared among the intermingling wrinkles of the long journey. It seems to make no difference if those decades were spent together. Maybe they walked these fields in youth, still left untouched by the plows and pains of change, only to be separated until recently. Or, as was the case with my own mother: united with a companion in an unexpected second life, years after my father’s last breath, paying the ultimate price in the line of duty.

I can feel the pulsing love in the joining of their hands; the intertwined beauty of a harmonious heartbeat ripples along the path, back to me, and into my own hand.

“Sorry about that, Dad.”

My son, now standing beside me, places the ball in my bare hand. Our eyes catch as we both grip that tattered ball for a split second.

We share a quick smile and time stops.

A whirlwind carries me to my own back yard, playing catch with my dad when I was my son’s own age; to the old street in front of my house, where my sister’s hands rested on mine as I gripped my little bike’s handlebars for dear life; and to the old treehouse in Veronica’s woods, where we placed our hands on our hearts, discovering young love. In each, the pulse was almost too much to bear — timeless no doubt, rippling from the memories of loved ones long gone.

Then it is all over.

The couple disappears over the ridge. My son returns to home plate, and I walk to the mound, wrapping my fingers around the old leather ball.

“Remember, Dad. It’s all in the fingers. The rest just happens naturally.”

I spin the ball in my fingers, feel the red laces that, like fingers intertwined, are woven together in perfection, and start my wind-up.

It takes just a split-second to leave my hand and fall into his, a masterful pitch centuries in the making.

baseball1

–>The pieces I run in the “Creative and Uncut” series, formally known simply as “Rus Uncut,” are raw drafts that I publish within hours of an experience. These experiential journal entries are written without a plan and are published for their raw appeal. For this piece, the image of an elderly couple holding hands sparked something deep within me about the timelessness of love. However, as I sat down to write this piece, I had no idea that it would tie in the game of baseball like it did (in fact, I wondered earlier how I could get around that I was even on the field playing ball with my son, as I thought the focus of this piece would be on a topic much too mature for such familial imagery). These pieces are hardly polished; therein, I believe, lies their beauty.