Rising to the O-ccasion League championship: Orioles fans must quickly get their hearts and lungs in shape.

October 08, 1997

COLD. HOT. You're shivering one day, sweating the next. Crazy weather from El Nino? Nah. We're talking about being an Orioles fan as the American League Championship Series versus the Cleveland Indians begins tonight in Baltimore

The emotional ride for baseball fans the past several weeks has been great fun -- and we suspect that will continue -- but also marked by bouts of deep anxiety and irrational exuberance. One moment, Baltimore fans are bemoaning the sluggish play of their team in spite of its rare achievement of remaining in first place all season. A week later, they're so fearless they're rooting for the Yankees to continue in the playoffs just because vengeance against the annoying New Yorkers would be so sweet.

At this point in a baseball season, confidence is a meteorologic condition of the mind, subject to change at any minute, like weather over the Chesapeake.

Snippets of taped conversations with a true-blue Orioles fan the past month would sound even more embarrassing and less principled than the Clinton "coffee videos": "Oh no, the playoffs are here and the team's flatter than a crabcake. They'll never beat the Mariners." "Wow, did you see how the O's muscled Seattle's ace, Randy Johnson?" "Davey, not that reliever. Boooooo!" "We did it! We won! We made the Big Unit into the 'Big Doughnut!"

Indeed, a cardiologist would never recommend this past Orioles season as a wellness regimen. Fans' hearts are barely in playoff shape. There was little build-up to the division title. The Orioles mostly coasted past Labor Day to the post-season. Most of their victories resembled each another: Grab a lead and hold it. They rarely won games they were not leading after eight innings. Conversely, they rarely blew a lead, thanks to superb relief pitching. The cardiac O's, they were not. Now, however, Baltimore is on the edge of its seat -- whether it's the green-slated version at Oriole Park that's earning scalpers $200 or more, or a sofa in a club-basement in Rosedale.

The national media may seek to script a soap opera storyline between Baltimore and Cleveland, of cities entangled in a lover's triangle over a football team. In reality, the two long-suffering industrial towns now praised as models of urban renaissance have more in common than not.

Ohioans might not overrun Camden Yards as did Yankee fans last October, but just in case, repeat after us: Keep your tickets in the family and let your lungs leave no room for doubt as to which is the home team here.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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