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Orioles fans do whatever it takes to watch their team play in postseason

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Greg Knox was shirtless, with his chest painted orange and black, the last time the Orioles were in a playoff game, the finale of the 1997 American League Championship Series.

Knox, originally from Towson and a Calvert Hall graduate, was 23 back then. He could act a little crazy, walk around without a shirt in mid-40s temperatures and chalk it up to being a fan.

Now he's 38, a financial trader living in Austin, Texas, with a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and a son on the way. These days, being a crazy Orioles fan means blowing off his wife's obstetrician appointment and driving three-plus hours to see his favorite childhood team play the Texas Rangers in Friday's AL wild-card game.

"I wasn't going to miss this game for anything," Knox said. "I probably would have flown back to Baltimore if I had to."

Flying halfway across the country to see the Orioles play is exactly what Julie Shafer of Dundalk did Friday. The assistant director for the Governor's Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing left Baltimore at 9 a.m. Friday to fly to Texas. She was sitting a few rows behind the visitors' dugout about two hours before game time in her Mark Reynolds "Sheriff" T-shirt. She said she's been a fan since the 1990s.

"[1997] was when I really fell in love with the Orioles and [three years later] was when my heart was broken for the first time because Mike Mussina went to the Yankees," Shafer, 29, said. "And that's when I realized people didn't stay forever like Cal Ripken [Jr.]."

Shafer couldn't get anyone to go with her to Texas on short notice — the Orioles didn't know they were playing in Arlington until Wednesday night — but that wasn't stopping her. Shafer, a partial-plan season ticketholder who made a sign that said "Love Orioles, Will Travel," estimates the one-day trip cost her nearly $2,000.

"I would do it again even if they beat us 15-0, even if I knew that coming in, I would do it again," Shafer said before the game. "Because you don't always get asked to the dance, so to speak."

That's the pervasive sentiment for Orioles fans, who endured 14 straight losing seasons before this year.

Joel Reese, a 31-year-old aerospace engineer who grew up in Catonsville but now lives in Los Angeles, attended one of the Orioles' divisional playoff series games against the Cleveland Indians in 1996.

As soon as it became obvious that these Orioles would make the postseason, Reese told his wife that he was going to their first playoff game no matter where it would be played. He flew to Dallas and also has tickets for Monday's potential ALDS game at Camden Yards. He figures he can see family in Baltimore if the club doesn't play this week.

"I'm not going to take the chance that this doesn't happen again for 15 years," he said. "So I'm going to at least see this one."

U.S. Marines sergeant Steve Barber is based out of Fort Worth and for years has been dealing with chiding from fellow soldiers who cheer for winning teams. On Friday, the St. Mary's County native had a chance to sit in the center-field bleachers and cheer on his team in the playoffs for the first time. He wore in an Adam Jones jersey, Orioles hat and a pair of Orioles' Reebok sneakers that his wife bought on eBay for $8.

"Win or lose, it's been a great year," Barber, 29, said. "And it definitely ended all the jokes from the Yankees and Red Sox fans."

During pre-game introductions, pockets of Orioles' orange and black were visible throughout the stands, although the scene was dominated by Rangers' red, white and blue.

Knox, who in 1997 was emblazoned with orange-and-black body paint, wore a Matt Wieters T-shirt to Friday's game. He promised to keep his shirt on this time.

"I don't look quite as good at 38," he joked.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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