Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Start of the Tillman era

Tonight is an important night for Orioles baseball, perhaps on par with when Matt Wieters got called up in June. 21-year-old Chris Tillman makes his Orioles debut against a suddenly pesky Royals team. As Peter Schmuch wrote about in the Sun today, Tillman represents yet another piece of the "jury is still out" rebuilding plan engineered by Andy MacPhail. Tillman was one of the players acquired in the Bedard deal, which has to go down as one of the great fleecings in baseball of the last decade. Bedard is a career .500 pitcher who can't stay healthy and the Orioles got an all-star centerfield, a legit closer, and perhaps a solid starter out of the deal, along with a few other pieces.

So as Tillman comes up, we take the time to think about whether this rotation could be a winner for Baltimore in the near future: Bergesen, Hernandez, Tillman, Guthrie (maybe), and one more youngster, like Brian Matusz or Jake Arieta.

By the way, the result tonight means very little. It would be great if Tillman wins, but Berken won his first start and hasn't won since, though he did keep the Orioles in the game last night. The real test is how he's doing after 2 months in the bigs and the real REAL test is how he's doing come this time next year.

For some morbid reason, I still watch. I found myself last night driving home after a late night of work listening the Joe Angel and Fred Manfra describe another squandered lead, this time against a team that is supposed to be worse than the Orioles.

But as one more promising young player comes up, taking the place of a guy who couldn't get it done (Rich Hill), there's one more reason to think, "maybe things are looking up."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I hope my kids don't hate me for this... On Baseball and Passing it On

Often before my son Ethan goes to bed, we curl up on the couch and watch a little baseball. Ethan, who will be 5 in September, likes baseball, and has begun to understand some of the nuances of the game. He gets, for example that there's 3 outs in an inning, 9 innings in a game, and daily opportunities to stay up past his bedtime watching games with his dad.

Ethan's favorite player is Brian Roberts, likely because he bats first, wears number one and his name is easy to say. Ethan also knows that Adam Jones bats second and wears number 10, and that Nick Markakis is number 21 and Aubrey Huff is 17. He knows that our team is the Orioles, but that grandpa (who lives on Long Island) loves the Mets.

Ethan surprised me the other day when his uncle Kenny asked him, "what number is Luke Scott?" and Ethan (who has a crazy memory) said "30," with the effortless confidence of a man bored by the question.

His 11-year-old cousin then piped in, "I definitely didn't know that. Ethan knows more about the Orioles than me!"

And I felt both satisfied and guilty, for I have passed down a love of the Orioles to my son. Make that my sons actually. I have an almost 2-year-old named Alec, who likes to watch baseball too. Alec will say before bed, "I want to watch Base-i-ball Daddy!" Actually he screams it while jumping up and down, up and down.

I thought about these things today as a I diverted my attention from work at various times in the afternoon to check online for the Orioles-Red Sox score. You see last night, the Orioles pulled off one of the all-time great comebacks, scoring five in the bottom of the 7th and five in the bottom of the 8th to steal a win in a game they were losing 10-1 after 6 and a half innings. Then today, they led 5-1 entering the 9th and inconceivably blew the game. Such pain. Such horror. Such torture. What have I done to my boys?

My sincere, and perhaps even attainable wish, however is that my sons don't have childhood memories of their dad inexplicably caring about a bad, not going anywhere, last place team.

I have two older brothers and each of them has a son who is 11. They were both born in 1998 and neither of them has been alive for a winning Orioles season. So Jake and Jordan and their younger siblings can be forgiven for not caring that much about the Orioles. After all, it has been specifically in their lifetime that the Orioles have not been very good. In fact they've been bad. Embarrassing even.

But I have a feeling -- actually I know for a fact -- that I kinda care about the Orioles more than my older brothers. 12 years into losing baseball, I watch at least some of just about every game. I read the box scores. I pay attention. I take pleasure in watching the emergence of a talented young player like Nolan Reimold or Brian Bergesen. I text during games to my friend Steve. "Are you WATCHING this?"

There's something comforting to me, even following a bad team, about the day-in and day-out nature of baseball, how there's a rhythm to the game and to the season.

I don't feel too guilty about romanticizing the game to my sons and getting them into it. I honestly believe, for the first time in a long time, that the team is on the right path. I have this feeling that my boys will have a different association than their cousins with the Orioles. In 3 or 4 years, when my guys are 5 and 8 and on up, I think the Orioles will be playing winning baseball. And guys like Reimold and Wieters and Jones and Markakis might just be for my kids what Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and John Lowenstein and Rick Dempsey were for me.

And when their friends jump on the bandwagon they can say, "Where you been? We've been following these guys for years."