Apr

28

 Last night was a special night at Camden Yards. Or at least it might have been. We'll have to see what happens the rest of the season. The Os won in a 10 inning game, 3-2. The score doesn't capture, though, the victory happening with a base hit and the bases loaded. It's the sort of victory that teams in the hunt have to win. Every team of note has at least one game where the team energized and stayed energized for the remainder of the season. For Os fans, you need to go back to at least 1996 for such a game. That one was the de-energizer one, actually (10th Yankee, Jeffrey Maier).

But there are such games, ones that define a team's season. There are a few I can think of immediately when it comes to the Os. Doug Decinces' home run blast on June 22, 1979. It was 3 years before America would record "You can do magic" (I've always wondered if the opening image came from Pippin)—a song played just before the start of every Orioles game in September 1982 (it was played loud enough on the final day of the season, Earl Weaver's last game, that you could hear it over at the VA a quarter mile down the road)—and I think that carried over into 1983, but I'm not sure)—and there was the incessant talk about the reappearance of "Orioles Magic."

Everyone in town knew the reference. It was impossible not to; whether at Bo Brooks, Obryki's, or even Phillip's out in Ocean City, so the buzz went (I went to OC only a couple of times that year, so I'm not sure; down in Annapolis, though, by the marina near downtown it was a constant topic of conversation throughout the summer). But it was in 1979 that the Magic made its visitation at Memorial Stadium. When it came and found a home for 100+ games. When Flanagan (who won the Cy Young and never figured in the voting again, never win winning it), McGregor and Three are from 1966, one from May 8 when Frank Robinson hit the only ball to ever go outside Memorial Stadium (the point of departure marked by the "Here" pennant that perplexed visitors to Baltimore until the move to Camden Yards) 450+ yards on the fly and the other at Yankee Stadium when Frank Robinson hauled in the two outstanding catches, arguably the two best acts of defense of the year (remember that this is the team with Brooks Robinson—two years after he was MVP and four years before he gave a clinic on how to play 3rd base during the World Series—never mind his general daily play for the Os.

Last night may have been one of those games. It felt like one of those games. It's early in the year (as Tim Melvin keeps reminding me) and the Os bullpen bears more resemblance to the stability of jello than an iron wall, but that game last night was something to behold. Not a work of art. Gritty. Spirited. The memories of the 1979 Birds came to mind last night. 1979 featured only one standout pitcher—Flanagan. The rest of the staff (well, maybe excepting Tippy Martinez) was just, well, blah. Even Cakes. But blah enough to get to the series, but still blah all the same.

  I remember the night the Os clinched in 1979. I was a student at JHU, on the Homewood campus. My apartment was on Calvert Street, so it was a short walk to the stadium. 1979 was only two years since Brooks retired (some still think he was pushed out—and maybe he was, maybe he wasn't, the stats are pretty mixed), and his absence still cast a bit of a shadow over the team. It had poured that day, there was autumnal chill in the air (I think it was in the low 60s at game time), and the stadium still had a lot of water in the stands (who knew that within 5 weeks, the playoffs would be take place in weather more appropriate for football than baseball). The stadium was pretty empty that evening. You'd never guess that this was a team that had captured the hearts and minds of a city. With the rain that day, I'm sure many decided it would be better to stay indoors. But it was a grand game. I think the Os lost, but it didn't matter much. They were going to the playoffs. Make that returning to the playoffs. And in a year when no one thought they would much of anything. Take that, Yankees. Take that, Boson (the nemesis of the Os in the 1970s—moreso than the Yanks as I recall it).

Harborplace was still under construction downtown, and there was lots of skepticism about pouring so much money into downtown. It was the era of the Big City Mayors—Koch in NYC, Schaffer in Charm City. Schaffer put a lot of political capital into Harborplace, and that investment paid incredible returns. But there are those of us who think that the turn-around in Baltimore's economy began on June 22, 1979. Orioles Magic indeed.

 Some have opined that this year feels like 1966. I remember 1966. I lived through it. All way through the back to back HRs by the Robinson boys in the 1st inning of the 1st game in the World Series and the picture of Brooks jumping into the air after the Os won game 4 and the series. This isn't one of those years. From 1966 through the mid 1970s (maybe with the exception of 1967, when the pitching staff was worse than this season's), the Orioles dominated the American League East. Jim Palmer won 2 of his 3 Cy Youngs in 1974 and 1975 (and would have won in 1982 if he had pitched to form on the last game of the season). From 1969-71, they just dominated the American League.

The 2014 Os do not resemble any of those teams. There's no Frank Robinson, no Brooks, no Jim Palmer, no one of that ilk. That doesn't mean they can't go all the way. Maybe for the first time in 22 years, Orioles Magic makes an appearance at Camden Yards. For the whole season and not just one game.There's still September to be played. And May. And June, and July. Tim's right—it is early in the season. Still time enough to dream. To recall. To relive the joys of one's youth.
We'll see.

Play ball!


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