Written by : Jay O’Brien
I was in the crowd on a beautiful, unseasonably warm day when Baltimore fans celebrated a home opening win behind the fearlessness of young talent, leadership of experienced veterans, and charisma of a new coach. That team, the 2008 Ravens, advanced to within a touchdown drive of the Super Bowl. The 2011 Orioles, now 4-0 after their home opening win over the Tigers, have that same pedigree.
Manager Buck Showalter has energized Baltimore’s fan base with the bold swagger that John Harbaugh exhibited with Muhammad Ali’s “What’s Our Name” rallying cry during his first season. Buck’s shots at Derek Jeter and Theo Epstein (Men’s Journal article) showed O’s fans, and more importantly his players, that the days of being AL East doormats were over.
Then there’s the veteran leadership of Brian Roberts. The longest-tenured Oriole, he has delivered two key three-run homers in the O’s first four games (Watch the video ) after an injury-plagued 2010 season. He is the spark that ignites the Orioles offense. Need proof? Between ‘04 and ‘09, the two-time All Star batted .290 and averaged 101 runs, 46 doubles, 35 stolen bases and 62 RBI. Without Roberts for most of 2010, the offense was anemic – 2nd to last in the AL in runs and last in steals.
Of course, a team is only as good as its next day’s starting pitcher, and the Orioles can go seven arms strong. Orioles’ starters have given up only 2 runs in 26 innings pitched this season, led on opening night by vet Jeremy Guthrie and followed by some of the best young pitchers in the game. No one expects the young arms of Baltimore – Arrieta, Tillman, Matusz, Britton, and Bergeson – to lead the O’s to the playoffs in ’11, and that’s to be expected. No one expected Joe Flacco to lead the Ravens to the postseason in his rookie season either.
Why can’t this be the year? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since watching the most exciting O’s Opening Day since I moved to Baltimore in 2001. While many Baltimore scribes are warning fans to temper their expectations, I challenge all Orioles fans to do the exact opposite.
Dream Big. Dream like the Tampa Bay Rays and their dozens of fans dreamed in 2008, when they went from worst record in the league to the World Series. Dream like the Butler Bulldogs dreamed (twice). Dream that Orioles’ lifer B-Rob will be rewarded for his loyalty. Dream that the young guns will achieve greatness. Dream that Buck will get a ring to wave in Jeter’s face.