Tunneling Toward Sunshine

Yankees, go home

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Typical Christmas when we were growing up: Barb and I got lots of orange and black gear.

Last night the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees to complete a four-game ALCS sweep and move on to the World Series. While I wish the Tigers well (my Dad was a Detroit native and Baltimore’s Al Kaline was one of the team’s greatest stars, so they’ve always had a soft spot in my heart), my main reason for celebrating last night’s final score was that it vanquished the hated Yanks, who one week ago sent my beloved Orioles home for the winter.

The Orioles had a thoroughly unexpected, bizarre and wonderful 2012 season. Watching them win crazy comeback games and extra-inning endurance challenges, overcome injuries and hold the Yanks’ feet to the fire right up to the fifth game of the AL Division Series brought back the glory days of Orioles baseball from my youth, when Brooks and Frank Robinson and later Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray kept us focused on baseball well into autumn. I’m especially glad that my 84-year-old Mom, who has loved the Orioles since their minor league days more than 60 years ago, got to experience such an exhilarating and satisfying season.

Mom was at Memorial Stadium on April 15, 1954, when Bob Feller threw the first pitch for the modern Major League Baltimore Orioles, and she and I were together at Memorial Stadium on October 6, 1991, when Mike Flanagan (RIP, Flanny) threw the final pitch there. She was in the stands in October 1966 when the Orioles won Game 4 of the World Series to earn their first world championship, and between the two of us and my sister Barb, we were there for each post-season in between, for “Thanks Brooks Day;” the near-pennant in 1982 during Earl Weaver‘s final season and the following year’s wire-to-wire championship season; through the brutal 21-game losing streak in 1988 and the “Why Not?” season in ’89. Barb and I spent a lot of games as part of the Section 34 Rowdies (where she was “the Dipper Sign Girl” for Rick Dempsey).

We cheered at the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and for Cal Ripken’s 2131 game, and shed a few tears at his 2001 retirement. Mom and I went to Cooperstown for Brooksie’s induction and Eddie Murray’s. By the time Cal was enshrined, she wasn’t quite up to facing the crowds at the Hall on Hall of Fame weekend — but we made a trip up later that summer to see the commemorative exhibit.

There’s more, but you get the picture. Mom’s a die-hard Orioles fan, and her love for the team has never wavered, no matter how ugly the last 14 seasons were. And this year, she has been absolutely ecstatic to join the Buck Brigade and watch Showalter’s Orioles shock the league.

On what turned out to be the last night of the 2012 Orioles’ season, my husband Mike and I took Mom to Glory Days, a local sports-themed restaurant, where we could all watch the game with other Orioles fans. As the Birds’ bats continued their post-season slumber and the innings slipped by, we all got the sense that our team had finally run out of magic. It was sad to see it end, but the thing that put a lump in my throat was what my Mom said on the way home after the game.

“What a year!” she said, unable to stop smiling as she climbed out of the car and headed into the retirement community where she lives. “I really never thought I’d live to see another winning Orioles season. I can’t wait until next season!”

Books and movies have been made about how sports bonds fathers and sons. I don’t know that I’ve seen the mother-daughter story told. But seeing and sharing my Mom’s lingering joy over the O-mazing 2012 Orioles, I found myself really glad that my husband was driving us home. My own eyes were a bit foggy, for some reason.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled cool-weather passion: the Ravens.


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