It's May, and that's not just pollen in the air. That's excitement. Somewhere it's written that you don't get excited about a ballclub this early, but it hasn't been written yet at Camden Yards.
It's May and people are actually scoreboard watching (Orioles win, Blue Jays win).
It's May and every Camden-green seat in the house is filled.
It's May, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the Orioles lead the AL East and you come to the ballpark where you'd swear it's autumn. Bring a wrap.
"Yes, it's exciting," says veteran Rick Sutcliffe, who's old enough to know better.
"You go out during batting practice, two hours before the game starts, and there's that buzz in the air. It's like, 'Hey, we're going to have a good time.' It's like September. That's the feeling you get."
It's May, and it's like September.
Johnny Oates asks for perspective. In fact, he even warns, "You should keep your excitement in perspective." But he's wearing a smile about as wide as a Gregg Olson curveball, and nobody really wants to talk about perspective now, not even a manager known for his caution.
"You have to enjoy it," Oates says. "All of us in the clubhouse realize that a baseball schedule is 162 games, and we've played 24. But we've enjoyed playing those 24."
They're 16-8 and they're averaging -- averaging -- 44,169 fans. Which is more incredible? Tomorrow, they play a game starting at 12:15, and there are fewer than 1,000 tickets left. How are you going to explain to the boss that lunch went just a little long?
Don't worry, the boss is probably going to the game, too.
Has the world gone crazy? I know a town that's gone slightly nuts, and it's still four weeks till Memorial Day. Do you have any out-of-town plans for October? Are your airline tickets refundable?
OK, maybe the Orioles aren't going to win the East. Maybe they're not on a next-to-last-to-first trip. You don't want to hear that, do you? Here's the stuff you want: Mike Mussina is 4-0, Gregg Olson is the youngest reliever to get 100 saves, Brady Anderson is one off the league lead in RBI and is a clear leader in sideburns, Mark McLemore is on his way to being a folk hero and the Orioles lead the league in average runs scored without Glenn Davis and with a slow-starting Cal Ripken.
How's this stat: Only four times this season has an Orioles starter failed to get into the sixth inning.
"Every day, they put the numbers up for the opposing team," Sutcliffe says. "I look up, and it's Henry Cotto hitting .471 against us last year. It seems like everybody hit at least .350. Didn't we get anybody out last year?"
Well, not so you'd remember. The ballclub was 9-15 this time a year ago, and Glenn Davis was out and nobody knew when he'd come back. The season was about as thrilling as a rain delay.
"Are we excited?" says Randy Milligan. "Sure, we are. And one of the reasons is last year. Last year at this time, we were thinking about when the season would end. This year, you can't wait to get to the ballpark. All the guys are in an upbeat mood. You know there's going to be a big crowd. The team is playing well.
"It just steamrolls. It started with Brady when he got hot. And then Devo [Mike Devereaux] gets hot. Hoiles starts hitting. Hulett has a big day. You want to be a part of that. You say to yourself, 'I want to get into that.' "
Milligan powered a ball over the center-field fence yesterday for what would be the winning run. Tim Hulett, who had an odd day of tough-field, great-hit, tripled with the bases loaded and later scored a big insurance run on McLemore's squeeze play. Cal Ripken hit his first Camden Yards homer. The game was a sellout.
Exciting times? Everyone was there. It was the fourth sellout in 10 games, second in a row. The Orioles want you to know there are plenty of seats available tonight. At last check, there were all of 8,000 remaining for a Monday nighter against Texas.
"Enjoy it while you can," Oates says, knowing there are hard times ahead and that the wisest course is to remain calm.
But nobody is thinking about hard times now. Hard times came last year. And, besides, how do you fit fun and calm into one sentence?
Even Oates finds himself getting just the slightest bit giddy. When somebody said yesterday that it isn't just the big names who are producing, Oates was quick to point out that McLemore has as many letters in his names as anyone.
The Orioles are 9-1 in their new home at Camden Yards. A year ago, the Orioles won their ninth home game on June 7. So, yeah, how can you not be excited? This year, the Orioles are excited only every time they show up.