Neal Shaffer: Orioles are making a point in 2012

Truly, there is nothing else like baseball.

Countless sporting trends have risen and fallen since this game arrived in our popular culture. Boxing and horse racing, once huge, today fade even from the margins. Auto racing comes and goes in various forms. Tennis had a moment but can't really make a dent anymore despite the fact that three of the greatest players of all time currently ply their trade. Anyone want to take bets on skateboarding or motocross?

Through it all, there has been baseball. It has ceded the top spot in our collective consciousness to NFL football, but it's still a lion. Firmly ensconced in the big four and unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.

One big reason for this is the game's endless capacity for surprise in the face of odds.

Surprise, of course, is a core reason for watching any sport. We like seeing people do things we didn't think they could or would do. Baseball, however, is unique. The grind of a 162-game season tends to knock almost everyone back to the mean. But not everyone. And not always.

The Orioles were roundly expected to have a bad season here in 2012. When they got off to a hot start most of us figured, rightly, that it was only a matter of time until they faded back to those low (realistic?) expectations. The stretch last month where they went 2-9 seemed to confirm it. "Here we go again" felt like the right way to think, and it even felt OK.

Then a funny thing happened. They didn't fold. They didn't roll over or dip into bad habits. They just kept grinding their way out of the slump - something of which we've seen very little in recent years.

They may still fold and fade. But for the first time this season I think it's time for all of Birdland to admit - truly admit - that they might not.

That's huge. Tough to type, even, because I don't want to jinx it. But the facts don't lie. There's something going on here. At the least it's a shift in the team dynamic that bodes well for upcoming seasons. At the most? Well, who knows?

Probably not a playoff spot and probably not even a chance to contend for one into August. But a season that concludes on the plus side of .500? No longer unreasonable, no longer something we should confine to wistful moments and hushed conversations.

That alone - that possibility of surprise in the face of odds - is a gift the game itself has given us. Maybe it was just our turn, but whatever the reason it's time to crack a smile and say thanks. Finally. These Orioles really are fun to watch again.

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears here as part of MASNsports.com's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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