After some games, past midnight, sometimes at 1 a.m., Buck Showalter drives away from Camden Yards and surveys the people still lingering around the streets. The Orioles manager wants to take the pulse of the city.
He wants to know what they’re wearing, or more accurately, what color they’re wearing. Is that orange? Is that an Orioles cap?
After a night like Saturday’s game against the Washington Nationals, with another sellout crowd at the ballpark, he can be content.
“I [can] tell you it’s a lot of fun for me to drive down the street coming in or coming out and seeing people walk around with the Oriole gear on,” Showalter said. “It’s encouraging. But it drives me, and us, to hold onto that. It’s a precious commodity. You have to earn it, and it’s going to take a while to properly earn that.”
The team held its annual State of the Orioles event at 4 p.m. Saturday, and after some words from Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette, season-ticket holders had the opportunity to pose questions to the fans.
The inquiries ranged from one from a man asking about 35-year-old minor leaguer Lew Ford to one from a very young girl who, in a squeaky voice, thanked the pair “for making the Orioles team No. 1.”
But permeating from the fans, and reflected in the robust, overwhelmingly orange Saturday evening crowd of 46,298 -- it was the second straight sellout at Camden Yards and the fifth of the season -- was a sense that, finally, they could allow themselves to hope.
“Every year, spring training comes around, I’m like dream scenario: if this happens, if this happens, this happens, [and] my family thinks I’m crazy, my friends think I’m crazy,” said Joe Redmond, 26, of Pasadena. “But you live in this city and you’re not an Orioles fan, you need to wake up and realize the history that’s here.”
For 20-year-old Will Holmes, a Baltimore native, the Orioles as a contender is a new concept. He can’t remember the last time the O’s finished with a winning record back in 1997.
“It’s a different feeling where every game means something to the standings, and we’re checking the standings,” Holmes said. “It’s Orioles fans [at Camden Yards]. It used to be only Red Sox and Yankees fans when it was sold out. And now with the Nationals ... it’s full of orange.”
At the State of the Orioles, Duquette stressed the ownership’s commitment to fielding a contender and to making any deals they feel would help the Orioles reach and advance in the playoffs. Compared to the fans, and to a lesser degree to Duquette, Showalter remained sober in his analysis of the team, mentioning that he woke up Saturday morning and the Yankees still led his team in the American League East standings.
At one point, a fan told Showalter that his grandson wanted to know why he didn’t smile more.
“You tell him that if we’re where I want to be in October, you’ll see me smile more, okay?” Showalter said.
The remark drew applause, and after all, the very fact that October baseball in Baltimore is within reason has fans excited. Some, like 16-year old Mitchell Caplan of Pikesville, couldn’t remember the last time the Orioles played playoff baseball. He was an infant in '97.
Even his older brother, 17-year old Jared, needed reminding that he was alive the last time the Orioles played in October. So after nearly a lifetime of baseball misery, do these young Orioles fans believe that this year’s team can make a postseason run?
“I hope so,” said Brittany, their 21-year old companion from Owings Mills.
“I hope so, yeah,” said Jason, their 21-year old brother.
And Jared? “I hope.”