From "Why Not?" to "What If?" for the Baltimore Orioles
April 2, 2014
It's not simply that the Orioles won on Opening Day. The O's have won their home opener for four years now and five of the last six years. Even in the darkest days, the team reeled off seven consecutive victories in home openers from 2001 through 2007, the longest such streak in team history.
It's not simply that the Orioles defeated one of the Evil Empires on Opening Day. The O's are a combined 10-6 versus the Red Sox and Yankees in home openers.
And it's not simply that the Orioles played in front of a boisterous sellout crowd on Monday. The O's have sold out every home opener at Camden Yards (23 years and counting). For that matter, they drew more than 52,000 fans to Memorial Stadium on Opening Day 1989, one season after losing a team-worst 107 games. You'll remember, of course, that 1989 turned out to be the Why Not? season in Baltimore.
The optimism surrounding the Orioles in 2014 is about more than an Opening Day win, more than the opponent, and more than the crowd. All those factors matter, mind you, but for the first time in a long while there's a real sense from the outset of the season that every game, particularly against a division opponent, will matter. There are expectations surrounding this team. No more Why Not? It's about What If? in 2014.
The 1989 Why Not? theme resonated once more in 2012 as fans searched for an historical reference point to describe the team's unlikely awakening from a 14-year hibernation from winning baseball. In both cases, the underlying truth was that they weren't supposed to be winning.
After 2005 started so promisingly for the Orioles before bottoming out in disheartening fashion during the season's second half, the feeling among hardened O's fans in 2012 was less of a declarative statement ("They can do this") and more of a question ("Can they do this?"). It was Why Not? Part II.
There are still plenty of questions to be answered in 2014; two winning seasons and one playoff appearance is hardly enough to produce chest thumping among the traditionally pessimistic faithful. However, the nature of those questions has changed. What If?
What If Ubaldo Jimenez reproduces the form he showed in the second half of the 2013 season? What If Chris Davis' presumed regression from his franchise-best 2013 home run total still puts him at 40+ homers for the season? What If the youngest of the O's young guns provide the team a needed shot in the arm as the season enters Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer?
Childs Walker summed it up thusly in a March 30 Baltimore Sun article: "Rarely has the city's attitude about a team flipped so quickly. In early February, many worried that the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos were content to drift back into mediocrity after two seasons of winning. By the end of that month, fans were convinced they had a worthy contender to cheer."
In a refreshing change from too many recent seasons, the Orioles are a team to contend with right out of the gate. Surprises are nice, but so too is anticipation. What If?