As you know, I invented “A.L.E.”
Always. Leave. Early.
Yet, there are exceptions. There are always exceptional, break-the-rules, once-in-a-blue-moon, exceptions to the iron-clad strategy of always beating traffic by leaving sporting events before they are done.
So there I was at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday. (Picture above, NOT photoshopped!)
I was with a friend who is a lifelong, hard-core, absolute Bird Fan – “One Account” Johnny Rhodes. Pride of Frederick, MD. He got his nickname when he worked for our radio station, and I would bust his balls saying he must only have “one account” to handle since he was always playing golf with me. Now, I spin it in a more positive direction, by saying “He’ll treat you so well, you will SWEAR that you are his ONLY account!”
We had free tickets from the radio station (club level, very sweet!), and it was a noon game on a Friday. Weather was perfect (overcast, and about 70) and I was off duty for the afternoon show thanks to the Nationals game being carried on our station.
I mean, the HELL I was leaving early! I had NOWHERE TO BE!
That said, when the Orioles were down 6-3 heading into the bottom of the 8th, my buddy said: “Wanna bail?”
I didn’t flinch. For one, I had nowhere to be. For another, I knew he was just being a negative Ned. And of course, part of me said: “You know, it would be pretty cool to be here to see and feel some of that vaunted ‘Oriole Magic’ that they made a song about.”
Sure enough, you saw what happened. It was electric to be there. The spine melting, ear-splitting, body tingling feeling of “that big sports moment” you might only get a few times in life… if you are lucky!
Or, sink enough of your days, nights, months and years into being a fan, and suffering mediocrity, chokes, screw jobs, and heartaches.
I almost felt guilty to be there as Delmon Young cleaned out the bases with a first pitch lash to left field. I had not suffered like the fans I was with. I had not put in the years and tears. All I did was buy a DAMN HAT at the souvenir stand to try to help “change their luck.” (Rally Cap: $37.50)
The whole place exploded and my boy “One Account” and I were pogo-sticking up and down amidst waving arms and towels that made it hard to see just how close the play at the plate was going to be.
Bedlam. Incredible. This is baseball. But there’s always a flip side.
The next night, the longest game in MLB playoff history took place in our town. And my “Biological Father”** of a team, the Nationals, endured one of the worst gut stabs in sports.
I was not there. Had I been there, I can’t say I would have stuck it out to the end. Many fans did not. I am not sure I can blame them.
Plenty of keyboard warriors lobbed bombs from their warm homes, in warm locales, about how “soft” the Nats fanbase is. “I DON’T CARE IF IT’S A THIRTY-SEVEN INNING GAME, YOU NEVER LEAVE IN THE PLAYOFFS!”
And stuff like that.
Easy to say when you are warm. And sitting on your ass. And flipping around through the channels between innings.
Easier still when you have all the food and drink you want for that SECOND FULL BASEBALL game you are watching. Many people have no idea that concession stands – all of them, not just beer – shut down after the 9th inning.
And while you can also say: “Hey, dress warm, dummy!” Nobody dresses for an 18 INNING GAME!
Besides, like I said on Twitter, nobody here in D.C. pretends we are a hard-core baseball town right now. We’re like an expansion team. We’ve had baseball for just 10 years. It’s gonna take time. And have you seen where that stadium is? It would be one thing if you could spill out of a 6-hour baseball game to any number of bars and restaurants by foot to warm up inside afterward.
There’s an open air, concrete football field surrounded by rusted out shipping containers. Leave the cold, to go stand in the cold some more. I shit you not.
As it turns out, the die-hards at Nats park, died hard. Which is what baseball does, better than any other sport on the planet.
As former commissioner Bart Giammati once wrote: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.”
If you stayed until the bitter cold end, good for you. You have a story to tell, and a badge of honor to wear. And given another 30 years of having our own baseball team to break our hearts, we’ll have many more such nights to endure.
** NOTE: Some of you people were confused, disgusted, or both when you saw me wearing an Orioles hat on Twitter. So let me explain. I grew up in the “DC market” without a true “Washington” baseball team for the majority of my adult life. The Senators left town in 1971, when I was three years old. The Expos didn’t become the Nats until 2005. As such, me and my buddies would make 1 or 2 pilgrimmages to Balitmore to see the Orioles every year. It was the only way to be a MLB fan. The Washington Post covered the Orioles, as if they were OUR team. When local cable rose to prominence in the 90’s, they covered the Orioles, as if they were OUR team. Yet I never truly felt like the Orioles were “my father.” They did their best, as my “step-dad.” But when my biological father – a true DC based team – came back in 2005, it was time to love him without reservation. It doesn’t mean I have hard feelings not for my step-dad, the Orioles. And I don’t wish him any misfortune. Quite the opposite. I’d like to see him make the World Series. And should my dad, the Nats, meet them there, then I’ll of course, root for blood over history. Does this make any sense? Is it wrong? I’ll leave it to your own judgement.