Zach Wilt: My summer with the Birds

I've convinced myself that I suffer from a very mild case of seasonal depression. For as long as I can remember, "back to school" has always been the worst phrase in the English language. I'm 24 and haven't been in a classroom since 2010, but there's something about the end of summer that brings me down just a bit.

From the first moment I hear the smooth tones of Joe Angel and Fred Manfra broadcasting from spring training in Sarasota, I can almost feel the Baltimore humidity back in my bones. Listening to their broadcasts in March helps prepare me for four and a half months of warm weather, driving with the windows down, beach vacations and trips to Camden Yards.

Summer days are like grains of sand in an hourglass. I try to take advantage of every second, but no matter how much I do, I still feel disappointed as another grain piles on at the bottom. This summer was my first as a married man, and I think my wife Rebecca and I made the absolute most of every second and have enjoyed the best season of baseball I can remember in quite some time.

We went to Bethany Beach for the Fourth of July, Walt Disney World and the Baseball Hall of Fame, leaped out of an airplane from 10,000 feet - with a parachute of course - and attended numerous O's games.

Through every summer event, the Orioles have been the centerpiece of my favorite time of year. At home, I've had daily phone conversations with my dad about everything from the success of the Orioles bullpen to Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot. On vacation, I've followed game action on TV, radio and Twitter, or just gotten score updates on my phone. There hasn't been a day without Orioles baseball.

While at the beach with my family in Delaware, I not only enjoyed the fireworks on Independence Day and a great book, I also got to watch Jim Thome make his debut with the Orioles. That week, I watched each of the Orioles games on the West Coast against Los Angeles and Seattle, staying up until 1 a.m. to see Thome bring his veteran presence to the O's locker room to help a young franchise who hasn't been in the postseason since 1997. Thome has always been spoken of in the highest regard by everyone in baseball, and his debut in Baltimore was exciting to see, even if it cost me a few hours of sleep on vacation.

Even after being injured, Thome put on the Orioles uniform and supported his teammates from the dugout. He went to Bowie to watch top prospect Dylan Bundy make his Double-A debut and has become a calming influence on the baby Birds.

While I was vacationing in the most magical place on earth, the Orioles seemed lose their magic during a 2-4 homestand against the Rays at Athletics. When I left, the Orioles had a two game lead over the Rays for second place in the American League East, and when I came home, they were tied. They slipped to just four games above .500 on Aug. 3 and many had written them off, predicting that their inevitable collapse had begun.

But the Birds hit the road and won three-game sets in New York and Tampa Bay before coming back to Baltimore and sweeping the Mariners to climb nine games over .500 again.

After following the Orioles 9-2 win over Seattle on my iPad from my hotel room in Cooperstown, N.Y., my phone exploded with text messages from friends telling me that the Orioles had called up Manny Machado. I blogged about Machado's debut from my iPhone while in upstate New York after walking through the Hall of Fame and learning even more about Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr., earlier in the day. My dad and I talked with a Yankees fan about the Orioles resurgence at our continental breakfast upon hearing the news of Machado's two-home run game on Aug. 10.

I hung out at my parents' pool talking about Jason Hammel's surprising season, played golf with my grandparents while discussing Buck Showalter as a Manager of the Year candidate, and texted friends from the bleachers and roof bar at Camden Yards all summer long. All while sporting my now-faded Orioles white-panel cartoon bird hat.

Even though summer officially ends Sept. 21, it's always been over for me when school starts back up in August. But this year is different. The Birds have found a way to keep it alive. With 35 games remaining on their schedule, the Orioles have defied the odds by competing for a wild card spot and putting off the fall for at least another a month.

Staying in contention certainly won't easy, Seventy-four percent of their remaining games (26 of 35) are against AL East opponents. The Orioles are on the road for 15 of their remaining games, including a nine-game road trip to Oakland, Seattle and Boston. They have seven games left against the Yankees and six left against the Rays, including their final series of the season.

But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that the Orioles are never been out of it. They wake up today 13 games above the .500 mark (70-57), tying their season high set May 19. It's a team that has become the biggest surprise of the season and one that just refuses to go away.

In my wife's vows, she promised to love me even when the Orioles lost. Fortunately for her, the O's have made life pretty easy in our first summer as Mr. and Mrs.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long 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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