The difference between standing in general admission and being on the field is about an inch. The two are separated by a four-foot high chain link fence, but the difference to a fan is night and day.
The Twins were taking batting practice as the Orioles slowly trickled out of the clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, first into the dugout and then meandering onto the turf in pairs.
I shut my eyes and tried to take it all in for a moment. Through the chatter from the stands behind me and the chatter from the players in front of me, one sound stood out. It cut through the air sharply and drew a smile wide across my face.
It was the sound of a baseball slamming to a stop in the palm of a well-worn glove.
This is baseball, I thought. This is why I came to Fort Lauderdale -- to see baseball, to feel baseball again.
There it was: baseball and I reunited once again.
I was hoping baseball would find me when I arrived here and walked off the plane, perhaps standing by a car with my name spelled out on cardboard, inviting me to enjoy summer. But I had no such luck, there was a delay. With so much else happening in Fort Lauderdale, baseball is tucked away into its own little niche fifteen minutes off the beach. You have to go find it.
So, I went and found it. I put on my shoes, my hat, my jersey (all in Oriole black and orange) and I went and I found baseball.
I looked out at the field again and my smile grew wider. Memories of little league home runs and Wiffle ball on the beach and playing catch on University of Maryland's McKeldin Mall came flooding back. I was drowning in them.
And then came hope a dream that maybe this year will feel like those years long past, the same dreams you can find swelling in Camden Yards on Opening Day each April. All of it was on the field in Fort Lauderdale, making its way through players and fans, waiting to ripen and be shipped north for everyone else to enjoy.
I was standing on the field with the Orioles. And I was allowed to be there. I was scared to walk, scared to pick up my feet, scared that if I moved it would all disappear. I thought I would rather stand still and not risk it. Careful not to move too much, I took out my camera and claimed the moment as my own. Mine. Mine forever.
Thirty minutes later, the game was about to begin and reality returned. My friend Brian and I, still grinning, laughing in awe, made our way to our seats in left field. We kept the passes around our necks all game, just in case, perhaps, they might invite us out once more. They didn't. The Orioles lost, horribly, and rain stopped the game early. The superstitious side of me wonders if I will ever be allowed on the field again given the result. Probably not, I've decided.
The feeling, though, the excitement of this annual reunion, did not go away with the loss. It was with me on the ride home, when my friend Lindsey said I looked "giddy like a school girl." She was probably right. And it was with me on the beach that afternoon and at the dinner table that evening. It even lingered with me to the bar that night, where I wore my Miguel Tejada T-shirt and a Mets fan told me that the Orioles were awful.
So what? They were perfect that day.
And the next day? Orioles 9, Mets 0.
It felt just as good from the other side of the fence. And I could still hear the ball hit the mitt.
Dan McGrain is a die-hard Orioles fan and a senior at the University of Maryland.
Throughout spring training, baltimoresun.com will publish reports by Orioles fans that made the trip to Florida for baseball's preseason. From Grapefruit League games to minor league camps, our crew of fan correspondents will weigh in with their spring training insights and experiences -- your source for a healthy dose of spring fever.