Finding a way to deal with O's woes

June 19, 2007|By JEAN MARBELLA

It was a tie game, so we were into extra innings. But then, the other guys kept crossing the plate, it was getting late and chilly, and I had left my sweater in the car. So when my husband asked, "Wanna leave?" I did what I've never done in a lifetime of baseball fandom.

I left before the end of the game.

I've sat, soaked, through rain delays; I've sat, hopeful, through hopeless games; I even sat, in the dark, for 2 1/2 hours at Camden Yards that night in August 1997 when they couldn't get the lights to work and finally postponed the game.

But this is what happens when bad teams happen to good fans. They spread the mediocrity, they infect even the hardy, they suck all hope out of a summer.

The thing is, we weren't even at an Orioles game. We were at a minor league game in Frederick on Saturday night, looking to reverse the curse, or at least balance our own baseball chi - which had been seriously out of whack since the previous Wednesday, when we went to the O's-Washington Nationals game. (That was the one - I know, it's all a blur at this point - that they lost in the 11th inning, the loss that could have been avoided, or at least forestalled, if someone, and I'm not naming names but his initials could be JP or MT, had caught a little fly ball to end the inning before three runs would score.)

Anyway, in a nice bit of symmetry, the O's and the Nats' Single-A teams, the Frederick Keys and the Potomac Nationals, were playing at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick. An hour's drive from Baltimore seemed a small price to pay to cleanse ourselves of the O's woes.

At least we wouldn't have to refinance to afford a second game in one week - the top ticket price at the Grove is $11, which got us seats three rows behind the Keys dugout. Free parking, too.

Going to a minor league game is like walking onto a movie set - for a 1950s musical. On the way to our seats, we passed a carousel and playground, and a grassy hill off the outfield where kids play their own games. In the stands, people actually talk to each other, not into their cell phones. I don't think I heard about any church picnics or school sock hops, but I did hear about someone's remodeling project and the birthday of a kid behind us - his friend declared this to be the best birthday party ever.

There were tons of kids in the park - and seemingly every one of them got to go on the field at some point. Each Key player was introduced as he took the field at the start of the game, and each had a shadow - a Little Leaguer who got to run out with him to his position and stay for the national anthem. Which was sung by a group that seemed to include every other kid in town, each of whom slapped hands with a player standing outside the dugout as they ran back into the stands.

So the scoreboard wasn't quite state-of-the-art - you couldn't really read it until the sun went down, and even then random bulbs were out so 8s sometimes looked like 9s, or maybe 3s - and the beer was as expensive as at big-league parks. Still, the game offered something you haven't seen at Camden Yards in a long time - a team that was contending for the postseason. If the Keys won this game, they'd clinch the first half of the season, which by Carolina League rules means they go to the playoffs.

I was thinking about this as, back in Baltimore, the Sam Perlozzo death watch continued through the weekend until the Orioles finally relieved their manager of his misery yesterday.

I went to the Warehouse - that's the O's offices, kind of like calling the city school district "North Avenue" - to see the mercy killing. Perlozzo himself wasn't there. Maybe he'd already started spending more time with his family.

No, actually no one said that. That's what they say in Washington when someone's been fired - in baseball, they just go ahead and say you're out. But other than that bit of truth-telling, it was like any news conference - at City Hall or the White House or anywhere - meaning: designed to make as little news as possible. Or maybe just keep reporters tied up for a while, away from finding out what's really going on.

Hours after the online world was saying that the O's had hired former Cubs President Andy MacPhail as chief operating officer and had set up a meeting to discuss the manager's job with Joe Girardi, these were both verboten subjects at the news conference.

Mike Flanagan, the great O's pitcher turned O's exec veep, said he was "not going to comment on anything down the road." (Which, of course, at least in MacPhail's case, it wasn't - if sources who have spoken to The Sun and ESPN are right, he's already been hired.) But that's OK, because neither did Flanagan "want to get into a game-by-game analysis" of what went wrong this season. When you're not going to talk about the future or the past, well, that's one way to have a speedy news conference.

Talk - the nonsanctioned kind - isn't big in O's culture, it seems. First, owner Peter Angelos fired the masterful Jon Miller because the broadcaster wasn't enough of a cheerleader, then, more recently, the O's left their longtime home on WBAL radio this season, the station manager has said, because the team wanted greater control over pre- and post-game programming. And even when O's execs go on other stations' sports talk shows, they don't take questions from callers.

All that control-freakedness has worked, as you can see.

At least we still have the Keys. When last I left them Saturday night, they had given up three runs in the top of the 10th inning. Having just seen the O's similarly blow an extra-inning game, we headed for the car.

So we missed the Keys doing what the O's never seem to do any more: They came back and scored four runs to win the game, and the playoff berth.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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Find Jean Marbella's column archive at baltimoresun.com/marbella

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