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Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 13, 2022 4 months ago

Prose and Kohn: 2022 Orioles change columnist from baseball agnostic to diehard

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Ryan Kohn's baseball fandom died in 2016. The Baltimore Orioles, on an eight-game winning streak, have brought it back from the dead.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

The signs lining the downtown streets once reminded me of home. 

The Baltimore Orioles brand is consistent. The signs here, in the team's Spring Training city, use the same colors and fonts and imagery as the signs that line Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the surrounding area.

When I moved to Sarasota in 2016, one look at an Orioles banner would send me right back to Baltimore, walking the concourse, checking out plaques like the one dedicated to a home run ball that landed in front of the park's iconic warehouse on Eutaw Street. I always have at least one Boog's BBQ sausage in hand in these daydreams. 

In the years since my move, I have had those reminiscences less frequently.

Part of that is probably time. As Sarasota has become my home, the Orioles signs have become less a reminder of where I came from and more a part of my day-to-day. They seem natural, not like a remnant of a place I used to live. To be honest, I hardly notice them. But when I do, I don't get warm feelings of home. I feel nothing. 

Part of this comes with the territory of a sports journalist who isn't supposed to cheer in the pressbox. But in this case, my profession is not the only reason my level of care plummeted. It's also because watching Baltimore had become a slog.

The Orioles made playoffs in 2016 as an American League Wild Card team. It was the third time in the 2010s that the team had reached the postseason. Those three seasons were the first time I had ever experienced Baltimore as a winning team, at least since I was 3. 

But it was evident that the run was not built to last. Without getting too "inside baseball" — literally — the team was not well-constructed. They went all-in on a final run in 2016 because it was all they had left, and it didn't work. They lost in the Wild Card round. 

Since then, being an Orioles fan has become its own special circle of Hell. It's not just that team has been bad, though they certainly have been — historically so in 2018. It's that the Orioles were awful. Blowouts became the norm; the 2018 team gave up 270 more runs than they scored. 

It was enough to make me not care anymore. I lived in Sarasota, after all. Why would I watch 162 Orioles games a year when I could spend those precious hours reading on the beach or having cocktails with friends on my choice of hotel rooftops? Even more importantly, why would I pay extra for MLB.TV to watch these guys? The on-field product didn't deserve my time, my attention or my money. 

Trey Mancini, seen taking the field during the 2020 Spring Training season, has been with Baltimore through the dregs of recent seasons and remained a bright sport. (Photo courtesy of Todd Olszewski/Baltimore Orioles)

I canceled my package, electing only to follow the team via social media, and that was simply out of morbid curiosity. My fandom as I knew it was dead. 

As recently as mid-May, I still felt that way. But something has changed now. Three days after I lamented my baseball fandom here, the Orioles called up catcher Adley Rutschman, considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball, from AAA Norfolk. Rutschman was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, the prize the Orioles won for being historically awful.

Rutschman has not turned into the game's best player just yet — though he has been good — but his arrival has certainly done something to the clubhouse.

Before Rutschman, the 2022 O's were 16-24: not quite as horrible as previous years, but not great, either. Since his arrival, the O's have gone 27-20, for a total record of 43-44. They're still in last place in the monstrous AL East, but as of July 11 they have won eight straight games, three on walk-off hits. They are the hottest team in the league and are two games out of a Wild Card spot. I reactivated my TV package just to watch these guys play their hearts out, and it has been worth it. 

(Update: The winning streak is at 10 games as of July 14.) 

I do not think these Orioles are going to make the postseason this year. There are too many teams to jump and, frankly, they have gotten a bit lucky during this run. But I don't care. What I care about is that the team is fun again. Rutschman has an infectious energy; he runs to whoever is pitching after each inning and walks to the dugout with them. It's not just him: other good, young players have turned the offense around. They have a "home run chain" now, worn by whoever has smashed the most recent dinger. They also play flashy defense and have one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the league in Felix Bautista.

When Trey Mancini, an All-Star caliber player who overcame colon cancer and has been with the team through the dregs of recent seasons, hit a walk-off single against the Los Angeles Angels on July 8, I actually found myself getting emotional. Didn't see that coming. 

All that losing did have a silver lining: there are more cool, young players coming to the O's in the next year or two, players to watch in person during Spring Training. You should also watch the O's now, if you have ever felt anything towards the organization. The sun is clearing the clouds away. After six years of dead fandom, the 2022 O's have carried it out of that special circle of Hell. I don't know if it's in Heaven yet, but it's on a slow climb.

In recent weeks, I have started to notice the Orioles street signs again. They don't necessarily remind me of "home"; that's Sarasota now. But they do bring the same feelings I felt growing up. They remind me to check the schedule so I don't miss a pitch. They cause me to daydream about the game I love.

I'm so glad to have those feelings back. 

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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