After nearly a decade and a half of losing seasons coupled with severe disappointment, I don’t even know who the Baltimore Orioles are anymore. I can admit it, finally. It’s like a break-up where you wistfully look back in retrospect, wondering where the feelings you once had have gone. You wake up with the realization of the present and that sinking feeling that you can’t go back. Time moves forward and people change. Except, in this case, they are literally different people… ones who never knew you existed, no less. But it feels just as heartbreaking.
Gone are the faces I knew and loved: Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux, Harold Baines, Chris Hoiles and, of course, Cal Ripken, Jr. These are the heroes of whom I would spend hours pouring through and memorizing their statistics, cheering them on from the stands and waiting for the chance to maybe -- just maybe -- get their autographs. Who has replaced them? Beats me. Sure, I can spout off names like Adam Jones and Jim Johnson while in polite conversation, but it doesn’t mean anything. The dynamic has shifted. I’ll feign hope for their success, but deep down, I no longer give a shit. I’m an Orioles poseur.
Without a team to root for, I guess I’m still a baseball fan on a technical level, but the game itself has evolved. I understand the significance of WHIP and still enjoy the occasional fantasy league, but I’m not cut out for today’s culture of fast-paced sabermetrics analysis and hyper aggressive coverage. My piece of the game has been stripped away, replaced by stats I can’t understand and a style of play I barely respect.
And Christ, baseball fans are so obnoxious nowadays. When did we get so boorish? When did the violent line of zealotry blur, making us more akin to our brutish cousins (hockey fans) than ever before? There used to be a certain dignity to watching the game. Now I feel like baseball is just another xtreme deathmatch. I long for the days of George Will.
I know I sound like an old man, but I worry about the loss of history. Why don’t “real” baseball fans know anything about the sport they claim to love? I always thought that was the one of the game’s true bright spots, what set it apart from all the others, how previous generations could overlap and interact with the next. Fans and players alike showed a genuine appreciation for, let’s call it, real human time travel.
Take, for instance, Tampa Bay Rays coach Don Zimmer. The Zim has been in baseball for 64 years, so long that he is the last former Brooklyn Dodger working in the MLB today. Zimmer’s career also stretches back to include a stint as a member of the infamous 1962 Mets. You know who coached that team? Casey Stengel, the famed Yankees manager who made his own Major League debut way back in 1912. That’s two people connecting 100 years of professional baseball.
I was reminded of this phenomenon last week with the news that Omar Vizquel has won a spot on with the Toronto Blue Jays. Vizquel made his Major League debut in 1989 and, after four decades, is only 159 hits from the coveted 3000 mark. Just 28 players have 3000 hits in their career. Only Derek Jeter and Ivan Rodriguez have more than Vizquel among current Major Leaguers.
Vizquel is one of two remaining players who have professional experience dating back to the 1980s. The other journeyman with that factoid on his resume is Jamie Moyer. Now fighting for the fifth spot in the Colorado Rockies pitching rotation, Moyer is even older than Vizquel, at 49 years as of this season. He spent 2011 out of baseball, rehabbing a surgery that usually ends the careers of players half his age.
Moyer made his debut with the Cubs back in 1986, but I first remember him as an Orioles stalwart when I was growing up in the mid-nineties. In 1995, my dad and I made a trip to Cleveland to see the newly opened Jacobs Field and, on September 8th, we watched the Indians clinch their first playoff berth since 1954. Naturally, the berth came at the O’s expense (not much has changed…). Vizquel was on that Indians team, alongside guys like Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Manny Ramirez. And there’s more! This was a stacked team, not just in talent. I think it’s the quintessential 1990s baseball team, an assemblage of that era’s finest.
I am heartened to see these guys still at it. In Moyer’s first game, he got the win against Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton (MLB debut, 1965). Phil Niekro was still in the league. So was Reggie Jackson. When Vizquel broke in with the Mariners, he was coming up with other newbies you might have heard of: Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson (both retired and en route to the Hall of Fame). Moyer is already at the longevity level of guys like Julio Franco and Hoyt Wilhelm. Only Satchel Paige and a few others remain.
I might be team-less these days, an orphan fan ambling around the world of professional baseball, but hope is not lost. In an era of continued confusion over steroids and what it means for a player to have “value,” there is something steadfast in what players like Vizquel and Moyer represent. So I’ll root for them.
Where so much today is open to revision and counter reality (political beliefs, historical events), I am assured that some things can’t be called into question. We age, we grow older, we work. And sometimes, a couple of these rare certainties can overlap… and we can enjoy ourselves when they do.