It’s over. We knew it was before now. The Orioles’ historically bad performance on the diamond indicated as much. Regardless, the lead-up to and the arrival of the July trade deadline provided a resounding finality to the entire exercise. The Orioles are bad again and will be for some time.
All eight players celebrated a division title at Camden Yards on Sept. 16, 2014, when the Orioles flirted with the apex of their superpowers. It was the night that Nick Markakis smiled, and the night that many an Orioles fan cried.
Markakis has been gone for a while now, the Orioles have tumbled from that apex, and now Birdland must navigate the downside of living in the baseball moment.
I won’t compare this to a break-up. That’s too easy.
I won’t compare it to a death. That’s too serious.
So let’s stick to baseball terms. The O’s purge – or demolition, as Dan Duquette described it – is something akin to a playoff loss. More specifically, it feels like an ALCS loss. So close, yet …
Dan Duquette, #Orioles executive director of baseball operations: “I hear it’s easier to demolish the entire house and rebuild from the ground up rather than renovating one room at a time.” Machado, Britton, Brach, Gausman, Schoop, O’Day. The Great Baltimore Demolition of 2018.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2018
The 1997 ALCS saw the O’s down three games to one to the Cleveland Indians. The 2014 ALCS proved even worse in the form of a three-games-to-none deficit to the Kansas City Royals. Each time, the end was indeed nigh.
Still, that young fan inside you who trusts baseball fairytales in all their magical, diamond-shaped forms, the one who creeps out from time to time when your hardened baseball heart wants to believe again, whispered reassuringly: “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
The 1997 ALCS sustained hope in the form of one final, last-gasp win. The 2014 ALCS offered only a gut punch. And the little, hopeful baseball fan lumbered back into hibernation with his optimistic whispers in tow.
The aftermath of an ALCS loss leaves you walking alongside both the fear that the best is behind you and the promise of better days ahead. There is, of course, sadness. There is, naturally, frustration. And, inevitably, there are the “What Ifs.” It’s all tinged with an appreciation for what happened, and a hopefulness that it can be that way again.
So it is with the end of this baseball era in Baltimore.
No longer can we glance around the diamond and glimpse ready reminders of the best seasons and postseasons. In return for their casino-like dealing the Orioles have received upside, potential, and – for the truly faithful – hope. But no guarantees. The sum of the parts has given way to the parts themselves.
After leaving Camden Yards following Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS, my immediate, jumbled feelings gave way to appreciation and the thought that I couldn’t wait to do it all again next year. In ALCS terms, next year took almost two decades to arrive, and the results weren’t any better.
Yet still I hope.