As a Baltimore Orioles baseball fan living in New England, I am caught between two warring empires: the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The Orioles are, like Portugal or Holland, a former empire — with World Series rings, playoff pennants and a slew of Hall of Famers to prove it. But, like all empires, they outspent their treasury and overexploited their colonies and, for such hubris, suffered humiliating defeats (the 30-3 loss to the Texas Rangers two years ago may have been their Gallipoli). If the Sox and Yanks pay the O's any mind at all these days it's only to cherry-pick their above-average players as free agents.
Last weekend, all this was made abundantly clear to me on a visit to Boston. Not only was the city celebrating the Bruins' Stanley Cup victory with a parade, but the Red Sox were in town and the weather was glorious. From my hotel room window I could hear the capacity crowd at Fenway Park hail the home team's torture of another opponent with an endless barrage of base hits. Two days later, I showed up for work in Waterbury only to find the TV in the newsroom tuned to the Yes Network, just in time for me to witness the Yankees picking at the carcass of some hapless interleague opponent even without captain Derek Jeter in the lineup. To make matters worse, the near-sainted Jeter is closing in on 3,000 hits, a milestone the media has all but dubbed Royal Wedding II.
I admit it. Envy is my green monster. Though I relocated from the Baltimore area 16 years ago, I am still unable to relinquish, as hard as I try, the hold the Orioles have on me. Each season since moving here, I am visited by an annual Midsummer Night's Bummer. This year the O's were kind; they're out of contention by late June, sparing me three months of misery. As Yogi Berra once said, it's déjà vu all over again: the O's are in last place and every other team in the American League East is firing on all cylinders. My team hit bottom last week. While I was in Boston enjoying (not) another Sox victory, the O's were losing back-to-back series against two of the weakest teams in baseball, the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Like any abusive sports team relationship, you get inured to it. I've learned to content myself with happy memories of Memorial Stadium in the late 1970s when I was lucky enough to jump aboard the twin careers of Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray, both of whom are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame (along with elder teammate Jim Palmer).
Besides, the O's seem more like a Frankenstein monster now, a revolving door of over-the-hill, overpaid free agents like Vlad Guerrero, making a pit stop in Baltimore before heading to Cooperstown; Derrick Lee, who lives on the disabled list; the freakishly awful closers Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg and so on. Their best pitcher, Koji Uehara, was a Hall of Famer in Japan but now is so fragile that he can only pitch one inning per appearance. And their slugger, Luke Scott, is a right-wing Birther so dumb he managed to get injured during a homerun trot last season (also his off-season hunting BFF is Ted Nugent). That the O's were banking their return to glory this year on a former Yankees manager, Buck Showalter, makes it all the more absurd.
While fandom can be psychologically damaging when your team regularly loses, what is the effect on a fan whose team almost always wins? I've noticed that fans of such teams feel entitled, somehow, to be champs. Yankees fans have been like this throughout Jeter's long career; they pontificate loudly about their "storied" franchise. And yet, since 2004, when the World Series drought ended for the Red Sox, their fans have assumed the same pose. If possible, they can be even more annoyingly certain of their superiority. And those pink hats! Lord help us.
I hope that Red Sox and Yankees fans can enjoy these moments in the sun this year. After all, empires eventually crumble. And the Orioles will be back on top by 2050.
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