What a Difference a Year Can Make

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One of the more frustrating aspects of being a Baltimore Orioles fan the past fourteen years was the insinuation from the media, other teams, and other fans that the Orioles have always been a poor organization.  It was the fact that this claim was absurdly false – Baltimore was the class of the American League and the envy of every other team in baseball for a period roughly spanning from 1966 to 1983 – that made it so frustrating.  We live in a society where present circumstances make up our entire realities – our past, current, and future realities.  Sports are no exception to this phenomenon.  If a team is not very good at the present, they were never any good.  An unproven player just called up and batting .200 will never be any good.  The present shapes the past and future.

For the better part of the past 15 years – perhaps even the past 30 years – the Orioles were largely a mediocre to poor baseball team.  As Orioles fans, we went against the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality out of necessity.  We embraced the rich and storied history of the Orioles franchise because we had to.  We clung to the idea that the present is not everything – the notion that past events are just as important as current events and that what the future holds might be completely different than the present.  We had to, but we also knew there was a good deal of truth to those sentiments.  Nothing lasts forever – it can’t.

When a self-loathing Baltimore sports fan or worse yet, a New York or Boston fan, would engage me in conversation and ask me what I like to do in my spare time, I would respond that I am a huge Orioles fan and go to a bunch of games during the summer.  The responses would range anywhere from a dismissive “why?” to a sympathetic “that must be tough.”  I would shrug.  “They will be good again and when they are, it will be so worth it,” was my standard reply.  My response was almost always met with silence.  The Orioles were bad now – they would never be good again was the prevailing thought.

One year ago on Friday, the Orioles were at the end of another losing season.  To non-Oriole fans – and even to many Oriole fans – it was just as it always had been, just as it always would be.  The Boston Red Sox, while sputtering to the finish line, were still tied for the AL Wild card spot.  Winners of two World Series titles in eight seasons and perennial playoff contenders for the past decade, the Red Sox were a good team.  It was just as it had always had been – even if it really hadn’t always been that way.  The Red Sox went 86 seasons without a World Series title and were in the playoffs only three times between 1919 and 1985.  Again, none of that mattered, as the present shaped all other realities.

In the 365 days since that night – that night when the Orioles ended the Red Sox 2011 season by defeating them 4-3 – the Red Sox fired their decorated manager, lost their successful General Manager to the Chicago Cubs, and hired as their manager a man better know for his controversial comments than any successes leading a team.  Since that night the Red Sox have lost 89 of the 158 games they have played, shipped four all-star players to contending teams, and dealt with controversy after controversy that has popped up along the way.

During that same period, the Baltimore Orioles – those same Orioles that “were always terrible” and would always be destined to be terrible – hired an unwanted General Manager who had been out of the game for 10 years, only to see him assemble a ragtag team that has won 91 of its past 158 games.  As we approach the final four games of the 2012 season, it is the Orioles atop the American League East and the Red Sox at the bottom of those same standings.  As it turns out, a lot can change in one year.  As it turn out, things are not always as they once were and are not necessarily as we might imagine they will always be.

This post is not meant as an “I told you the Orioles would be good again” post.  It is not meant to be brag that the Red Sox are fallible after all.  No, I write this for the exact opposite purpose.  I write this to point out that things can change – things do change.  In Baseball – as in life – events and circumstances constantly change.  As difficult as it might be to realize in our now-centric world, that is a universal truth.  When your team is winning, enjoy it because it almost certainly will not last forever.  When your team is losing, stay positive and hang in there because it will not always be that bad.

A lot can change in one year.