Over the course of this current offseason (which is starting to wind down), I’ve heard a lot of internet “chatter” about people jumping ship off the Orioles’ bandwagon. Granted I understand the plight of the average fan in that the O’s haven’t won in 14 years and so forth. In previous columns I’ve discussed the idea of people following the Nationals religiously as opposed to the O’s, as well as the concept of the Orioles “losing a generation of fans.” My conclusion was that it wasn’t really a possible for people to up and choose another team. Is that really the case, and if so why?
I try to write this column from a fairly objective position in that if a commentator or columnist shows immense bias towards the home team I feel he loses all credibility. However the fact is that this is an Oriole column, thus it’s written from the perspective of the Orioles. I want people to know that I’m on the Orioles’ side, however my job isn’t to cheerlead or hate either. However…I grew up in this region, and I most certainly still am an Oriole fan. I have fond memories of watching the Birds on summer nights at my grandparents’ farm in Rising Sun, MD, and going to Memorial Stadium with my father. Cal was my favorite player (as was the case with most kids my age back then), however well before he was the ironman. The Ripkens of course hail from Aberdeen, MD, so he was a “neighboor” of sorts. I could talk all day about my past, however needless to say those times are very important to me and that’s where my love affair with the orange and black began.
When I hear people say “I used to be a fan of this team but now I root for that team,” I kind of snicker to myself. We all have stories in terms of why we root for who we do. I also spent a lot of winter afternoons at Cole Field House with my father, which explains my lifelong obsession with the Maryland Terrapins. I recognize that not everyone is wired the same way. Not everyone had a happy childhood for instance, and they might just as soon forget those times and sever all links to those times. However, I would submit that these formative years in any child are vastly important, and they very much make us into who we are today (for well or ill). If sports or a sports team was a huge part of those times, how exactly can you turn your back on that?
When I talk to people who have done that or are threatening to do so, they claim it’s “very easy.” If you’re all about instant gratification, I presume it must be. Throwing that O’s cap in the basement and buying a sparkling new Red Sox cap must be quite a feeling. In a matter of seconds, you’ve gone from being a loser to being a winner…right? That’s like being on the losing side in Family Feud and expecting a pat on the back for “finishing second.” We can engage in revisionist history all we want if we want to be like Mark Texeira (who claimed he was always rooting for Don Mattingly and the Yankees as a kid at Memorial Stadium), however you don’t suddenly inherit a brand new story just by changing your colors.
With another “home team” so close by, many people threaten that they’re going to switch allegiances. I suppose I would argue that people can “threaten” all day long, however when it comes down to it are they really going to pull the trigger? When push comes to shove…that orange and black isn’t so easy to put down, is it?! Again, I recognize that I come at this from the perspective that my childhood and my memories are extremely important to me. However one thing you can never garner when choosing another team is those formative memories. I could never forgo the memory of my father and my uncle telling me to watch Cal Ripken because he’s from Aberdeen. I could never call another park my “home park” while knowing that I sat in Memorial Stadium with my father rooting on the Birds as a child.
This is not to say that fans don’t have the right to question what the team is doing. I would again say that the offseason has been underwhelming to say the least. However in fairness, why not let things play out and allow this team to at least play a few games before totally passing judgement? I’d also be interested to speak to Yankees/Mets, ChiSox/Cubs, and Giants/A’s fans. Would any of them consider switching to their other local team if the going got tough? In NY I suspect the answer would be f&%k no! However given the provincial nature of the mid-Atlantic region, it’s an interesting question.
I suppose that if you value instant gratification so much and don’t want to be associated with what you perceive to be a losing team, I would invite you to pick another franchise for whom to root. However when you go out and buy that Nationals cap, Red Sox t-shirt, Rangers car tag, or Cardinals bar set, just remember why you began rooting for the Orioles to begin with. And then tell me you’re ready to change sides.
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