May 2, 1988, 7:36 PM ET – Baltimore, Maryland
Jay Tibbs, a 26-year old right-handed pitcher for the American League Baltimore Orioles, delivers the first pitch in the first game of a new home stand to Oddibie McDowell of the visiting Texas Rangers. McDowell takes the pitch for ball one. Tibbs is hardly a Baltimore baseball fixture. In his brief major league career, he has already made stops in Montreal and Cincinnati. 1988 marks his first year in Baltimore.
The moment under most circumstances would hardly be memorable. If not for the events surrounding it, this would be one of an uncountable number of Major League Baseball moments that have simply been forgotten in time.
The pitch signaled the start of the Orioles’ 25th game of the 1988 season. The Birds just returned home from a long 12-game early season run trip that them on a tour of the greater upper Midwest from Milwaukee to Chicago. 50,402 fans packed Memorial Stadium in Baltimore City that evening to watch their hometown ball club, enthusiastically greeting the team back from their time away.
Oh yea, one more thing . . . the O’s record was 1-23.
May 18, 2013, 7:10PM ET – Baltimore, Maryland
29 year-old right-hander Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles hands a baseball to his manager Buck Showalter and walks sternly towards dugout. Johnson has just helped turn a 6-4 9th inning Orioles lead into a 7-6 deficit and managed to record only one out in doing so. It is a rare sight for Johnson who prior to flubbing a save opportunity three days earlier, had racked up 35 consecutive saves in a row. Johnson was the backbone of a strong Orioles bullpen the year prior and for the lsst two plus years had been one of the more consistent relief pitchers – a baseball position where consistency is scarce – in baseball.
The nearly 35,000 fans in attendance look on in stunned disappointment at what they just saw. Some of them – how many is hard to tell – begin to boo. It is a registration of their anger, directed at the Orioles’ usually stalwart closer.
The Orioles record coming into the game was 23-18.
The dis-symmetry between the two scenes is obvious.
One is a city welcoming home their over matched and failing ball club – of whom they have little attachment to on an individual basis – with open arms. The other is a city callously turning on one of its best players the minute he encounters a rare failure. One is a scene of unconditional love; the other a living demonstration of provisional support.
I don’t write this to draw any conclusions on how Baltimore baseball fans may or may not have changed – for the worse – in the past 25 years. I am not sure if they have and in any event, it is not the point.
The point – or at least my point – is that the baseball fans of Baltimore have shown that they are capable of supporting a team at a high-level in spite of their poor performance. Some Baltimore fans have also shown that they are capable of callously turning on player or team when he or they have a moment (or several moments) of weakness. It would be awfully nice to see more of the former and less of the later these days.
The Orioles have lost six games in a row. Jim Johnson has blown three consecutive 9th inning saves that have effectively swung the Birds’ record during that time frame by 6 games in the loss column. It is not fun watching your team lose. Nobody believes any differently. It was not fun to watch the Orioles start their season 0-21 in 1988 either. Yet one group dealt with the disappointment in a far more uplifting, positive, and encouraging manner than the other.
My point is to point out that how we react to a bad situation can greatly impact how we feel about it. We can get angry and sulk when things don’t go the team’s way or we can do something – anything – else in response. We can turn on players who are performing well on the whole but not as well as we would hope or we can support them and keep the faith.
One way breeds anger and bitterness. The other provides at least some level of optimism and positivity. I know which way I’d rather go.
I’ll get off my pedestal now. I just wanted to get off my chest.
I’ll leave you with a few words from Buddha who perhaps put it the best: