Ailing Ravens fans – O's baseball could be tonic

January 18, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

The next few weeks aren't going to be easy. The sting of Saturday's devastating loss to the rival Steelers isn't going to go away as long as the NFL's biggest prize is still being pursued by teams that the Ravens should have, could have or would have beaten if they had not tripped over their own feet at Heinz Field.

This week, in particular, bears the bitter taste of an AFC Championship Game that should have been at M&T Bank Stadium.

So, just what are you supposed to do to get your spirits back up in a sports town that has invested just about all of its emotional capital in a team so painfully and recently vanquished?

Adopt Rex Ryan and the Jets?

Well, I'm pretty sure that will happen on Sunday, since Baltimore's second-favorite NFL team is anybody playing the Steelers, but that might only buy you a few hours of temporary peace and contentment, because the Jets probably aren't going to have much better luck in Pittsburgh than the Ravens.

No, the only way to chase this cloud away is to embrace the coming baseball season, which gets underway in about three weeks when the Orioles pitchers and catchers report to their newly renovated spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla.

Of course, the irony of all this is just too obvious. It is the Ravens who are usually responsible for lifting O's fans out of their annual late-summer malaise, and it's fairly likely they will have to do it again come August. The O's always head south soon after the Ravens conclude their season – whatever the outcome – but the stakes have now become a little higher for the fans who follow both teams.

Nobody is suggesting that the Orioles are headed for any kind of greatness in 2011, just that they should provide a more interesting diversion this year. They will not be burdened with the kind of expectations that made the Ravens' 13-win season seem disappointing, but they will, at least, report to camp with more to offer than in any recent season.

There are enough new storylines to get you all the way through March and just enough carryover from last year's two-month upturn under new manager Buck Showalter to allow you to create some positive scenarios.

Will you be fooling yourselves if you imagine veteran first baseman Derrek Lee bouncing back from an injury-plagued season to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs? Maybe. Is it delusional to look at Mark Reynolds at third base and see a home run machine instead of a windmill? Perhaps.

But, as John Lennon once wrote, whatever gets you through the night is all right.

The downside is always going to be apparent if that's where you want to focus. The Orioles won't come out of the offseason with any of the best position players that were available this winter and they haven't – at least not yet – added significant depth to a very young starting rotation. That's hard to overlook when fourth place was 19 games away at the end of last season.

It requires some serious statistical gymnastics to create a scenario in which they finally bring an end to their long string of losing seasons. They will have to replicate the winning chemistry of last August and September (a tall order in itself), avoid any serious injuries to key veterans, get breakout seasons from several young players and hope for a major fall-off by the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays just to imagine themselves wild card-worthy. Happens all the time.

The odds of all that look a lot better if you compare them with, say, Powerball, but that isn't the point. Following a baseball team is a lot like watching a soap opera. It's all about plot development until you get to the end.

So, it's almost time to break out the bats and balls and give in to the cock-eyed optimism of spring, however illogical that may seem.

If you're a Baltimore sports fan in mourning, what other choice do you have?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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