With the regular season over, teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next is our friend Stacey Long from Camden Chat. She wrote the 10 best things about being an Orioles fan for us earlier this season.
Fellow citizens of Birdland and all those who supported the 2012 Orioles, I welcome you to a new age. An age where the O's are again the toast of the town and where hope blooms in the hearts of a once cynical fan base. It's true that our season came to an end before we were ready, and to that I say this: Be disappointed in the ending, yes, but do not be disappointed in your team. It kept pace in the American League East for 162 games, defeated the defending American League champion Texas Rangers in the wild-card game, and came within one game of conquering the Yankees in the ALDS, a team sporting a $200 million payroll and multiple future Hall of Famers. This 2012 Orioles team was nothing short of miraculous. From the Nate McLouth renaissance to Yankee killer Miguel Gonzalez, who made his major-league debut at age 28, this was a once in a lifetime team.
Mistakes were made: When a team starts the year expected to lose over 90 games, and instead wins 93, mistakes are hard to come by. But oh, what could have been if the Orioles hadn't been swept by the Mets, if they hadn't lost three out of four to the hapless Indians in June? One more win in each series and the Orioles would have tied the Yankees for first place. Or if only Mark Reynolds could have been the Reynolds of 2011 and bashed 35 homers instead of 23, what might have happened? If they hadn't been forced to rely on the defensive nightmare that is Wilson Betemit at third base for much of the season? And, of course, if only their offense slumped for six games in the regular season rather than six games in the playoffs, I might not yet be delivering this concession speech.
Sadly the most glaring mistake made during the Orioles' season was made not by the team, but by the fans (and I include myself). I'm not speaking of the fuss that was made over the relative slowness with which the fans returned to the stadium; that I understand. Our mistake was our preoccupation with the inevitable collapse, a collapse that never arrived. We had our reasons, of course. Having already suffered through 14 losing seasons, our defensive mechanisms have been finely honed. And from all sides we were bombarded with the words of sports writers who claimed it couldn't possibly last because the Orioles just weren't that good. Yes, other than a handful of optimists, we as a group failed to simply enjoy the wins and the joy of watching a competitive baseball team. I will not make that mistake again, and I hope you'll join me.
Mudslinging time: Being in the AL East, the Orioles and their fans have been measured against the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and even the Blue Jays for years. The fans have been mocked for letting the Red Sox and Yankees fans invade Camden Yards, games against the Orioles were marked as easy wins on the schedule, even the Blue Jays fans sometimes got high and mighty when comparing the teams (No. 9. The OrioLOLs. Really? Their trash talk is as weak as their pitching staff). So let's measure, shall we?
The Boston Red Sox started the season with high hopes, picked by many to win the whole enchilada. Instead their team fell apart as the manager berated players through the media, players sent text messages asking for him to be fired, and the entire thing turned into a circus. Meanwhile, the O's players took on the personality of their no-nonsense manager, Buck Showalter, and came together like a true team. And while the Orioles called up rookie sensation Manny Machado to man third base and look like they have a future star, the Yankees are looking ahead to five more years and $114 million worth of Alex Rodriguez, and might be the most lifeless team in the postseason.
And the fans? The Red Sox have their own nation, yet the team that has won two World Series since 2004 couldn't be bothered showing up the first time their team put up a losing season since 1997 (don't let that consecutive sellout record fool you, unless the fans loved dressing as green seats). Of course, if I had to watch designated hitter Chris Davis strike out Adrian Gonzalez, I might not want to come back either.
Also, while the Orioles fans welcomed home their team like heroes after losing the ALDS, Yankee Universe couldn't be bothered selling out its playoff games, and the fans that did show booed every player on the playoff roster. I tell you, there isn't another team in the AL East I'd want to be a fan of right now (well ... maybe the Rays if not for Tropicana Field).
But enough negative talk, because when it comes to the Orioles, the future suddenly looks bright.
Hope for the future: It wasn't long ago the the Orioles were a laughingstock and many fans saw nothing bright in the Orioles future. It was less than a year ago that prospective general managers were turning down the job or removing their names from consideration. When Dan Duquette was hired, he wasn't what many Orioles fans wanted, but it's tough to argue with the results of the team he has assembled. When he traded for Jason Hammel, we scoffed. He found a gamer in Miguel Gonzalez in the Mexican League, he signed Wei-Yin Chen out of Japan and he had the guts to call up Manny Machado from Double-A to make the defense much, much better. He tinkered with the roster as much as I've ever seen, and it worked.
Maybe he got lucky with his moves, time will tell. But he got the team this far, and combined with Buck Showalter it finally seems like the management in place is a good fit. The Orioles need to improve both their pitching staff and their lineup for next season, but with a core of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy, young studs like Machado and Dylan Bundy, and the bevy of pitching that Duquette has assembled (with a little help from former GM Andy MacPhail), things could be good in Birdland not only this year, but next as well.
A change is going to come: The landscape of the AL East is changing, friends, and the Orioles have the opportunity to seize control. The Red Sox are rebuilding, the Yankees are old, the Rays are ... a problem, admittedly. Those teams won't stay down for long, so the Orioles need to act now. They need to ride this success into next year and keep the fan base invigorated. We've had a taste of winning, and now nothing else will satisfy us. I've long believed in Showalter is the man to whip these players into shape, and now Duquette is growing on me as well. Are these two men, who didn't quite fit in in their last destinations, just what Birdland needs to remain respectable? Friends, I say yes.
What a team. What a season. It's been a long time since Orioles fans have had much to be happy about in October, and it's a shame that it ended the way that it did. But now we can go into 2013 knowing that opening day won't be the highlight of the year, that the players are going to play hard for Showalter, and that the AL East is ripe for the picking.
Previous Concession Speeches: Oakland A's, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates,Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros