Rumors race on as news stalls

January 13, 2008|By RICK MAESE

The landscape is barren, and whenever this happens, our sports world seems to splinter. There's reality and fantasy, and there's really not much blurring between the two. They coexist, completely independent and yet completely reliant at the same time.

This is how the new year started for Baltimore's two professional sports franchises: Fan bases eager for news of change, team officials taking their time to bring about that change.

This isn't at all the case, but they feel like divergent forces: The more desperate a sports fan might be for news, the slower the wheels of change seem to turn. It's torturous, really.

Last week, we encountered what felt like a breaking point. No one could wait a second longer. Via Internet message boards, e-mails, barstools and talk radio, Ravens fans continued to hire a new coach every five minutes - Rex! Marty! Marchibroda! - and Orioles fans, meanwhile, dissected, analyzed, second-guessed, applauded and jeered a huge trade, which, if you want to delve into technicalities, never actually happened.

It didn't matter that fantasy differed from reality. There was an appetite to feed. Mouths need not wait for actual food before they begin the chewing motion.

Wednesday morning, shortly before 9 o'clock, OriolesHangout.com, one of the best fan sites out there, reported that Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts had been traded to the Chicago Cubs. By 10, there had been 63 comments posted on the message board thread announcing the news. Blogs started to pick up the report, and steam gathered quickly. By midafternoon, there were 200 comments and several ancillary threads, which began with favorite memories of Roberts and expressions of appreciation and slowly evolved into skepticism concerning the initial report.

By the end of the workday, everyone knew the trade hadn't actually happened, but that somehow spawned even more discussion. Why hadn't it happened? How did it break down? Might it happen tomorrow? Were the Cubs to blame? Or Peter Angelos? Or fate? Why does God hate the Orioles so?

By time the Web site administrators locked the thread Friday morning, it had generated more than 57,000 page views in a 48-hour period - and it was all much ado about nothing.

How did we get here? Our thirst for updates and insta-knowledge is not only insatiable, but it also completely outpaces reality. While we wait for the games, we completely lose ourselves wandering this multileveled maze of what-ifs and why-nots, forsaking what's real for the possibilities and sideshows.

In absence of tangible news, we're left to talk about the star quarterback's girlfriend and where he spends his time off. Los Cabos?! Is he nuts? Acapulco is to die for this time of year!

We're left to speculate which candidate might be interviewing with which team. Each of these conversations feels urgent and absolutely essential to the cycle of our own daily lives.

And we're left to decipher and interpret lies, rumors and pseudo-news.

Language that was once definitive is now ambiguous - close? final? signed? hired? fired? Sure they all still happen, but it's all preceded by popular qualifiers, such as "reportedly" or "allegedly."

And all that does is encourage doubt. Every time Brian Roberts isn't traded and every time a candidate doesn't fly into town for an interview, it's all the ensuing news reports that are received with skepticism. So in our hasty search for "right now," we've sacrificed what's "right."

Guys like Andy MacPhail, Peter Angelos, Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti shoulder the blame because they're using their own wristwatch to tell time, not ours. In fact, it's the rest of us who are most culpable, those of us who rush to share the news and those who rush to consume it.

Mid-January is the time to refine and tweak those New Year's resolutions - or throw them out entirely and subscribe to brand-new ones. Here's one for the sports fan and the sports media alike: Let's practice more patience.

Someday a coach will be hired. And someday a big roster move will happen. And when actual news surfaces and puffs of white smoke shoot from the brick warehouse in downtown Baltimore or the palatial castle in Owings Mills, we won't have to navigate our way from fantasy back to reality. We'll just hop off the mind's hamster wheel and start having real discussions about the actual playing of games. Just as we used to, back when news was still news.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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