I learned one of life’s most important lessons from my mother’s second husband in 1979. He thought it would be a good idea to bet me money that the Pittsburgh Pirates would beat my beloved Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. He didn’t care for the Pirates. He was more concerned with enriching my upbringing. I know this because of what he said when I cried as it became clear the Orioles would lose. “I hope you learned your lesson,” he said, and then he took my money.
I did learn my lesson. Baseball is pain. Dental surgery is nothing compared to the exquisite hurt of seeing the team you’ve followed all summer fall in the playoffs. No woman has ever hurt me as much as baseball has, though some have tried. I once woke up on an operating table in Russia while they were setting my broken leg. That was nothing compared to how much it hurt to see my Orioles run out of magic in the Bronx.
The clichés from “Bull Durham” conceal this truth. We don’t take it one day at the time. We don’t, Lord willing, just want our new players to help the ballclub. We want to win, to beat the Yankees, to erase the years of humiliation of straining unsuccessfully for mediocrity, and to—dare I say it?—win the World Series.
That has happened twice in my lifetime but only once that I can remember. I wore an ugly orange polyester jersey to middle school every day during the 1983 series. I thought that win restored order after the 1979 disaster, but it was only the first day of the rest of my painful life as an Orioles fan.
I remember them trading Eddie Murray for a used Pinto, and then a few years later trading away Curt Shilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis.
I remember that rat bastard Jeffrey Maier interfering with Derek Jeter’s fly ball in the 1996 playoffs.
I remember the end of the 1997 playoffs when the umpire John Hirschbeck called strike three on Robby Alomar on a pitch several inches off the plate to end the game.
Had I know how long it would be before the Orioles returned to the playoffs, I would have enjoyed it more. But those blown calls preceded 14 years in purgatory in which I served a sentence for another man’s crimes.
Then came Buck Showalter. He taught the Orioles how to win again, leading them out of the division cellar. His confidence rubbed off on the players who refused to lose close games. No team in baseball history has compiled a better record in one-run and extra-inning games. Orioles Magic was back. By September, I was pestering my wife to get pregnant so we could name the child Buck.
Then came that awful game against the Yankees. I allowed myself to believe that the Orioles would win a 2-1 game. We just needed two more outs. And then… It’s almost too painful to remember:
“Joe Girardi is pinch-hitting for A-Rod!” I shouted to my wife in the other room.
“Who’s Joe Girardi?” she asked.
“He’s the Yankees’… NOOOOOOOO!” Pinch-hit home run. Tie game. The pain was back. My wife rushed into the room.
“This was bound to happen,” she said. I do not remember what I said, but I’m told I delivered ill-chosen words with vehemence and volume that, I am further told, did not correspond to promises I made in our wedding vows. But she grew up in Boston, and you learn a lot about pain, bitterness and resignation when you marry a Red Sox fan. She meant that life isn’t fair, poor children aren’t secretly wizards, and the Yankees usually win.
She knew. Baseball is pain. Hope renews every spring, but heartbreak comes in the end for us all except for one team. The joy is in falling in love all summer long, and I can’t wait till next year.
© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.