Over the years at Camden Yards — and, of course, I mean the many bad years — I would be drawn into conversations with parents with little kids, especially if the little kids were decked out in Red Sox shirts and hats.
"Where are you from?" I'd ask, curious if the parents had driven from my native New England for a game.
"Cockeysville," would be the answer. Or "Catonsville." Or "Clarksville," or some other "ville" in metropolitan Baltimore.
Then I'd ask if the parents had grown up in New England.
"No," would be the answer. "He," meaning the 8-year-old independent thinker at our knees, "just loves the Red Sox."
"You mean," I'd ask, "you're not raising him an Orioles fan?"
I had similar conversations with parents of children wearing Yankee hats, too. Sometimes, the intrafamily split would be obvious — dad or mom would sport a tired Orioles T-shirt with "Ripken" on the back while their son or daughter wore pinstripes or a Bosox jersey with "Pedroia" across the shoulders.
Aside from admonishing them to avoid spanking, I never tell other parents how to raise their kids. But, in all those bad years at Camden Yards, it was tempting to say: "What is wrong with you? Why are you letting your kids grow up like this? Have you no sense of duty, no loyalty to the home team? That's something the good parent is obligated to teach her children. It's in the Bible. It's in the Torah. It's in the Koran. You can look it up."
Of course, I held my tongue.
Why should I have fought Peter Angelos' public relations battle in the $8 beer line?
The Orioles were losing — they've had 15 losing seasons out of the 21 played at Camden Yards — and the Red Sox and Yankees were perennial winners. That obnoxious Red Sox Nation thing had taken hold, and the Yard was filled with more Boston and New York fans than Bird lovers. It was a depressing scene. In fact, I once saw a woman reading a book about Prozac in the upper reserves when Mike Hargrove was the manager here.
As native Baltimoreans turned away from the Orioles — turned off by ownership that seemed content to make millions while losing year after year — they let their kids root for any team they wanted. Baseball mattered less and less around here, anyway, and the Ravens came to own the town.
But here we are, in October 2012, post-season, post-magic, post-amazing ...
So maybe all that changes now.
After 14 consecutive losing seasons, and after finishing last in the American League East in each of the previous four, the Orioles finished second this time, made the playoffs, won the wild-card game and took the Yankees to the fifth game of the divisional series.
Friday night's loss was a bummer but not a heart-breaker. As hard as it was to watch the Orioles lose in the Bronx, Baltimore fans should have been content with the world even before the game started.
I mean, some perspective please, hon:
The team was 69-93 last season.
It was 93-69 this season.
That's like going from D's to A-minuses. My kid turns things around like that between sophomore and junior years, and I'm ecstatic.
The 2012 Orioles' season could have been a fluke, but I doubt it. As long as the main meddler in the warehouse doesn't start meddling again, and Buck Showalter runs the show, this core group of players and pitchers could be contenders for years to come and even bring us the world championship we haven't seen since Reagan was president.
So a word to parents, aunts and uncles, Baltimoreans of a certain age: Please remember your civic duty. Get your sons and daughters, your nieces and nephews on board with the home team, if they're not already. Get them Orioles stuff on holidays and birthdays. Get them geared up in the orange-and-black. There is no excuse to align with any other team any longer. Another generation of Orioles cometh. Prepare thy children.
One last thing about this: Having grown up with the Red Sox, I still found it irresistible, 30-plus years ago, to make the Orioles my team when Baltimore became my home. The Orioles of the late 1970s and early 1980s were easy to love — a few All-Stars mixed with a bunch of no-drama, workaday guys who played smart baseball in the Oriole Way under managers who knew how to pinch and tinker to win. Those teams were a perfect fit for Baltimore.
What we have with these new Orioles — Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy — is a revival of that. Mark Reynolds, Wei-Yin Chen, Manny Machado, Nate McLouth, Jason Hammel, Robert Andino, Jim Johnson — we have to love them. It's our civic duty.