Neal Shaffer: Don't become what we've lamented

So we know that times are changing in Birdland. Winning doesn't seem so weird. The Orioles no longer rank among the bottom feeders. With that comes renewed interest in the team, and with that comes more activity on game day.

That means it's time to sound a clarion call for all O's fans to hear:

Act like you know.

When I read about the recent altercation down at Camden Yards between a couple of supposed Orioles fans and a guy in a Yankees hat, I got a sinking feeling in my gut. I'm no stranger to spirited - even heated - back and forth with opposing fans, but this? Too much. Way too much. And I worry that, if not considered, it could be a sign of things to come.

Think about why we hate it when certain Yankees and Red Sox fans invade our stadium. It's because that small yet vocal minority rolls in here with a heady mix of entitlement and aggression. They conflate the successes of their team with something personal, and they manifest it with obnoxious behavior. They act like people who possess something they neither deserve nor earned.

We spent a lot of years lamenting that. Let's make sure we now take pains to not become that.

You, reading this right now, are probably saying, "Sure, but I don't act that way." Fair enough. Most people don't. But the issue isn't how you or I act. It's what kind of culture we want to build.

Do we want Camden Yards to be a boisterous well of pro-Orioles/pro-Baltimore goodwill and good times for all, or do we want it to be a place where the success of our team makes for a convenient excuse to ignore or promote lame behavior?

Put another way: Do we want to build a fresh and admirable identity as Orioles fans in a winning era or do we just want to follow the Red Sox fan playbook of, "Screw you, we're winners now"?

We can't let the latter happen. We can't let Camden Yards become a place where winning breeds arrogance, entitlement, surliness and negativity.

You take a long-suffering fan base and infuse it with sudden success and there are bound to be problems. I get it. Some folks just don't know how to act when the shoe's on the other foot. But most of us do, so it's incumbent upon us to not let negativity become a stain on our collective identity.

Root for your team. Get wild. Have a hell of a time. Let go. That's what sports are for. But understand that there is a line, and that line is drawn at the precise moment when it becomes not about celebration but instead about something darker.

If you don't know where that line is, do us all a favor and don't go to the game. If you do know where that line is - as I suspect most of you do - understand that the example you set is an important one. Camden Yards should be a place where the energy is intense and awesome and fun and where opposing fans feel a little intimidated but never threatened.

After all, we're better than that, right?

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears 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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