During a seemingly off-the-cuff speech as a part of Thursday's on-the-field-ceremonies, Cal Ripken Jr. pointed to the Orioles dugout and encouraged this year's team to "enjoy September." He was talking to the players, but he may as well have been talking to the fans, as well. If there's anything that 14 consecutive losing seasons should have taught the diehards who have been with this team through it all, it's to enjoy the moment and not take it for granted.
What does it mean to enjoy the moment? Well, first it means disregarding fans of other teams, bitter rival managers and even analysts who should know better who call this team lucky. The O's are undeniably defying the odds in 2012. But the proper conclusion when the numbers don't add up - and it does happen - isn't to say a team's lucky, but rather that its efforts are improbable. Statistics are based on probability, after all.
Besides, a 162-game season weeds out luck. Back in April, I wrote a guest blog about the length of the baseball season and how it "doesn't allow for flukes." I also suggested that the Orioles would tumble down the standings as the season continued. Turns out, I was wrong on the latter point, and so is anyone who attributes the Orioles' success to luck. The standings in April allow for flukes; the standings in September do not.
Enjoying the moment also means be comfortable in your role as a fan. Let's face it, Orioles fans have been taking some abuse of late. First, it was the discussion of fans not showing up at the ballpark, and now there are accusations of fans jumping on the bandwagon or being the fair-weather variety. If you follow this team and you know this town, none of this stuff should stick.
Thursday's powerhouse crowd, many of whom were there to celebrate Cal and therefore following the team well before the supposed bandwagon left the station, was a resounding answer to any and all critiques of Baltimore fans. That is how Camden Yards used to feel in the '90s, which, by the way, included plenty of non-playoff seasons. And, heck, if anyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, feel free to get on board alongside all of us diehards. This team deserves support no matter where it originates.
Finally, enjoying the moment means sticking with this team down the stretch no matter what happens. Perhaps you'll be tempted to turn off the TV at times like last night's eighth inning when the O's allowed five runs and lost a lead they held from the first inning on. It was painful to watch. But turning off the television would've meant missing the magic.
Like many fans, my expectations for this team have risen throughout the season - from hoping for a winning season to anticipating a wild card to believing the O's can steal the American League East (and when you look at some of the payrolls involved, it would be theft). Regardless of what happens, this is a special season, one that shouldn't be taken for granted. Baseball is fun again in Baltimore.
I left Camden Yards following the Orioles' Game 6 loss in the 1997 American League Championship Series with a smile on my face, which is a rare reaction for me when my team loses, especially in such critical circumstances. The playoff atmosphere had drawn me in. I was happy just to be a part of it all. During the ride home ,I told my father that I couldn't wait to do it all again next year. Fifteen years later, it's finally next year.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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.