It's fall, it's over, it hurts Baseball: The Fan is mad, sad and spent. It's time to rest and recuperate, till months from now the seed catalogs land in the mail box and spring training begins.

October 18, 1997

"Hey, girlfriend!"

The Fan is interrupted from her daze. She is dawdling in Camden Yards, not quite ready to leave even though the last out of the last game of the year has already been made. A guy on a sort of dry-land Zamboni is driving slow ovals over the infield dirt to smooth it for the next game, a long six months away.

It's Gilda and Marla, the czarinas of the scalp-free zone. The Fan, one of their most loyal customers, hasn't seen them since the weather was hot and the Orioles even hotter. The zone was closed during the post- season because of the counterfeit ticket problem, and Gilda and Marla were re-assigned elsewhere in the park. Now they would be going back to their real jobs -- running computers for the city and working in a toy store.

Everyone has a real life to get back to. Even The Fan.

Did you know David Byrne has a new album out? That it's time to save supermarket receipts again? That Seinfeld is no longer in reruns, and everyone but you has read "Cold Mountain"? Did you see the leaves have started turning and the pumpkins are ready for thumping? The last time The Fan thought about anything but baseball, it seemed to be about coloring Easter eggs or planting those black-eyed Susans from the Flower Mart.

The Fan has a friend who shares her two passions: baseball and gardening. "Every October," she told The Fan, "I can't remember what it is I do all winter."

Indeed, gardens and postseason dreams usually die around the same time in this part of the world. This year, though, The Fan's garden died during the summer, killed by drought and abject neglect as baseball utterly consumed her. But while the Orioles lasted longer than the basil this year, they, too, ultimately died a protracted death.

It was inevitable. There was a bit of false summer last week: The weather was in the 80s, the geraniums bloomed one more time, the Orioles teased with a couple of wins over Cleveland in the ALCS. But it was really fall, and it was really over.

It's hard to let go, of course. It's like a bad breakup, when you keep arguing long after the relationship itself has died because that's all that still connects you. So The Fan allowed herself to indulge, just this one more time -- she listened to hours of Orioles talk on the radio the other night and simply wallowed in the collective misery.

Oh, woe. Armando and Raffy and Lenny, oh my.

The Fan remembered where her kitchen was and made a real dinner for the first time in months. The night after the last game, she was at a restaurant where a guy in the next booth danced on his seat and waved his WE BELIEVE sign from the ballpark, except he had folded it to read WE LIE.

"We lie, we're the Orioles, we choke!" he yelled.

Right now, The Fan can't imagine ever going to another O's game. She's mad, sad and simply spent. How could such a glorious season dribble to so pathetic an end? She has been through some shattering seasons before -- the '69 Cubs, the '89 Orioles -- but nothing like this. Those seasons may have broken her heart; this one got her in the gut.

This is why God created the off-season. If opening day were tomorrow, who but the masochists would show up? Eventually, The Fan will get over it. She always does. Right now, she doesn't care if the O's protect anyone besides Cal, Mussina and Bordick in the expansion draft, but she knows come November she won't able to squeeze all the names she wants onto her five-player list.

Several months from now, the seed catalogs will arrive, the pages crispy cold from the winter air but filled with endless sunlight and dazzling poppies. The Fan will wear out the pages, flipping through them and dogearing the good ones before deciding what to order.

By then, it will be February. By then, the pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training.

Pub Date: 10/18/97

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