The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
Over the next few weeks, we'll give each of the 30 teams a day in the spotlight, showcasing the icons and traditions that make each big-league hamlet special. Up next is Stacey Long of the great O's blog Camden Chat.
1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards: The first thing that comes to mind is also possibly the toughest to write about. Because what is there to be written about Camden Yards that hasn't already been said? Although it's already 20 years old, Camden Yards is still the jewel of baseball. It's a regular vacation destination for baseball fans around the country and once you get there it's easy to see why.
Nestled into the Baltimore cityscape as though it's been there forever, Camden Yards is gorgeous inside and out. The brick of the stadium fits seamlessly into its surroundings, and the incorporation of the B&O Warehouse connects the stadium with the city's history. It also creates a very natural feeling walkway for fans before and after the game, one that has been replicated (although not as well) by other stadiums. From the Camden green seats to the views of the city as you walk around the upper deck, Camden Yards deserves better than the team that has occupied it for the last 14 years.
2. Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne: The Orioles have been blessed with a number of good broadcasters over the years. From the universally acclaimed Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller to folksy fan favorites Brooks Robinson and John Lowenstein, we've been spoiled. Even Joe Angel, the current radio broadcaster, is a gem. But perhaps no duo is better suited to guide disgruntled Orioles through these dark days than Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne. Baseball's odd couple, their differences complement each other and give Orioles fans exactly what they need depending on the moment.
3. Matt Wieters: While a certain publication went on record last year as saying that Matt Wieters is the most disappointing prospect in baseball history, those of us who get to watch him day in and day out don't feel the same way. It's true that his bat hasn't been as prolific as we'd hoped when he was tearing up the minors (although he did hit 22 home runs last year and appears to be poised for a good offensive career).
The real joy, however, is in watching Wieters play defense.
Rewarded for his efforts with a well-deserved Gold Glove this year, Matt Wieters has turned gunning down runners at second base into a routine play. And even more satisfying than his perfect throws across the diamond are his withering looks to the runners he's thrown out, a look that seems to say, "Silly mortal, what were you thinking? Don't you know I'm Matt Wieters?" In addition, Wieters blocks the plate and pitches in the dirt as well as any catcher I've seen. It's just plain fun to watch him play the game, something you can't say of many current Orioles.
Former Oriole Boog Powell runs a popular barbecue stand at Camden Yards.4. Boog's Barbecue: There are a number of items on this list that could probably be placed under the "Oriole Park at Camden Yards" umbrella, but the truth is that there are so many things that enhance the Oriole Park experience that it doesn't seem fair to lump them all together. One of those things is Boog's Barbecue.
If you're not from Maryland, you might not know what pit beef is. You, friend, are missing out. Calling it barbecue is a bit of a misnomer as pit beef does not rely on any sauce to make it delicious. Cooked over a high heat on a charcoal grill, pit beef is crispy and smoky on the outside, rare on the inside. Sliced thin and piled on a bun with onions and horseradish, it's perfect in its simplicity.
From the day Camden Yards opened, Boog's Barbecue has been operating on game days from Eutaw Street just beyond the right field flag court. Boog is, of course, Orioles legend Boog Powell, and his involvement goes beyond a name on the sign. Many nights you can find the big man signing autographs, schmoozing the crowd, and having a good time while baseball fans line up to get a sandwich and say hello. It's a great experience and one that out-of-towners always request when I take them to a game.
5. The Bird: Let's get this straight: The only baseball mascot that can compete with The Bird is Mr. Met. Both are awesome and blow all of the other mascots out of the water. The Phillie Phanatic is obscene, flashing the crowd for entertainment. Wally in Boston is named after architecture for crying out loud. And don't even get me started on whatever that thing is down in Tampa Bay.
The Bird is a constant at Oriole Park and around town representing the Orioles, and he's darn good at his job. During games he leads the crowd in "O-R-I-O-L-E-S!" He square dances on top of the dugout with fans during "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," and his good-natured ribbing of out-of-town fans is funny but doesn't cross the line. Before the game, The Bird sets up a miniature baseball diamond in left field and brings little fans out of the stands to take an at-bat. In a time when it's easy to dislike the Orioles, The Bird reminds us that it's all a game.
6. Brooks Robinson: I mean no offense to the other Orioles legends when I say that there has probably been no finer human to put on an Orioles uniform than Brooks Robinson. Yes, he's arguably the greatest defensive third baseman in baseball history, but what fans of Mr. Robinson remember most about him is the extraordinary kindness he's always displayed.
Even Cal Ripken looks up to Brooks Robinson's example. (AP)I never had the joy of watching Brooks Robinson play baseball, but I've seen the way fans of all ages flock to him and how he always has time for those that adore him. I once attended an autograph signing of his, hoping to get the Norman Rockwell print bearing his likeness signed as a Christmas present for my father. There were only about 30 people ahead of me in line, but Mr. Robinson made a point to listen to every story told to him, to engage each in conversation. It took three times longer to get through that line than I thought it would, but I left that place knowing that I'd been in the presence of a true gentleman.
Former Baltimore Sun writer John Steadman once wrote this about Brooks Robinson, and it's a quote I think of often when I hear mention of Brooks Robinson's name: "There's not a man who knows him who wouldn't swear for his integrity and honesty and give testimony to his consideration of others. He's an extraordinary human being, which is important, and the world's greatest third baseman of all time, which is incidental."
7. Pickles Pub: Just across Russell Street from Camden Yards, Pickles Pub (and neighboring bar Sliders) is the perfect place to go before the Orioles game for cheap beer, good bar food (try the spicy hot cheese balls!) and general camaraderie. Fans congregate there before every game, enjoying their drinks on the outdoor picnic tables in the warm weather and in the large inside bar when it's cold. Opening day in particular is a mob scene, where the celebration of spring and baseball season is in full force early in the day. But every gameday is a good day to go to Pickles.
Between the bar and the stadium you'll find a host of vendors peddling hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels, sausages, drinks and fan memorabilia, all for much cheaper than is found once you're inside. The entire scene is a mini-celebration of what's good about being a sports fan.
8. Fancy Clancy: Clancy Haskett has been a vendor at Orioles games since 1974 and has manned the section behind the Orioles dugout at Camden Yards since it opened in 1992. He's a local Baltimore celebrity and even those who don't know his name probably recognize his face. Nicknamed Fancy Clancy for his creative ways to pour beer (behind his back, leaning over the railing, and other shenanigans), Clancy is like a friend to those that sit in his section on a regular basis. And if you are a friend, Clancy doesn't even ask you to pay until the end of the game.
Most people just know Clancy as the friendly beer vendor in the good seats at Camden Yards, but his life is actually a microcosm of the American Dream. After years and years of working as vendor, he and a group of vendors started their own business, a business that now runs M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens. And even though he doesn't need to work games as a vendor any longer, he still does it out of love for the job.
9. "O!" Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave: I'm not sure when and how the tradition of shouting "O!" in the middle of the national anthem began, but it has become more than just for the Orioles. It's part of our local culture, and can be heard at Ravens games, Capitals games, and even, strangely enough, at some Nationals games. If you watched the Grand Prix that took place in Baltimore last year, you may have heard the "O!" during the national anthem then as well. It's a local battle cry.
When "O!" is yelled at Orioles games, it's a show of support for the men on the field. They may not be the best team, but they are our team. Especially on days when our stadium is infested with Yankees or Red Sox fans, the "O!" is a reminder that we may be beaten down, but we are still here.
When you're an O's fan watching the team play on the road, you often hear scattered "O!"s from across the stadium and you know you're not alone. And my favorite "O!" of all time came on an emotional day in 2007, when a crowd of 70,000 plus in Cooperstown proudly gave an "O!" to Cal Ripken when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
10. The promise of a new day: If I could write the script of the Orioles, I would of course make it so that they competed every year, sold out their stadium every night, had a competent front office and a pipeline of prospects that makes the Tampa Bay Rays system look barren in comparison. I can't write the script, but I do know this: If and when our day arrives, it will be sweeter to us than many sports fans can ever imagine.
It'd be easy to think that Orioles fans have jumped ship, but it's not entirely true. Yes, we're disgusted, and as such we've stopped shelling out our valuable dollars for a team that doesn't seem to love us back. But we're still paying attention, still hoping and waiting for a future that is worth more than what we've seen in our recent past. Everyone loves an underdog, but unless you're the underdog yourself you'll never fully appreciate the highs because you haven't experienced the lows.
It's going to be awesome.
* * *
Big League Stew encourages you to join in the fun! Please share these lists with your fellow fans on Facebook, tweet us your suggestions with the #BLS10best hashtag or just use the comment section below to tell us your favorite things about being a fan of the Baltimore Orioles.