It is late August in 2010; the Baltimore Orioles are playing a regular season game and are on their way to their 13th-straight losing season. The Baltimore Ravens, coming off a heart-breaking loss to their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC Championship game, are playing a preseason game. Both teams are playing on the same night, if you are a fan of both teams, who will you watch?
Fast forward four years. It is late August and the Orioles are in the thick of an AL pennant race, heading toward their third consecutive winning season. The Ravens, on the other hand, are playing their second preseason game. Again, both teams will be playing on the same night. So now which game will you be watching?
If you were a Baltimore sports fan at any time before 2012, you would understand the reasoning behind people watching football over baseball in the middle of August. Baseball took a back seat to football in Baltimore for a good part of 13 ½ years.
Football was in the spotlight for a good reason. The Orioles had lost that winning mentality they had in the late 1990’s, having 14 consecutive losing seasons, and the Ravens were turning things around after some inconsistent seasons themselves.
As stated, the Ravens were consistently good but every new season brought a sense of hope that it could maybe be their year to win a Super Bowl. For the Orioles, it was completely different. Fans had a fake sense of hope that the Orioles would finally end the losing streak at the beginning of each season, but they were never fully convinced. No one wanted, or wants, to watch a losing team play, even if the only other option was to watch preseason football.
In all honesty, I was one of those people who chose to watch football over my favorite sport. Granted I would still flip the channel back and forth during commercials, and turn the Orioles’ game on when the second and third string players came into the game, but I still chose football first. As a diehard baseball fan, it pains me to say that.
Enter Buck Showalter. Showalter came into Baltimore with a winning attitude and changed the fans’ and the Orioles players’ perspective completely. Showalter was the eighth person to manager the Orioles in 14 years. He did what others could not: Win.
Of course this is not the first time Showalter has brought a winning attitude into a city. He took losing teams in New York, Arizona and Texas and turned them into winners. Though he was fired from all three teams, New York and Arizona won the World Series the following year. New York’s championship year would be the first of four in the span of five years; one can only imagine what would have been of Showalter if he was not fired.
Texas would have two consecutive World Series appearances four years following Showalter’s firing. Showalter obviously made a positive impact on all three teams and their baseball culture. He has a knack for doing that wherever he goes.
Showalter has set a precedent in every city he has come to. Baltimore is no different. He wants to win and if you don’t believe it, just look at the most recent example.
Is his first full season with the Orioles he had a 69-93 record. In his second season, he led the Orioles to a 93-69 record; a record that would lead the team to its first playoff appearance and its first winning season in 14 years. Two years later, the Orioles have 69-50 record and lead the AL East by 7.5 games.
The fans are not the only ones who can feel the attitude changing. The players and managers can feel it too.
“This club is a lot like this city,” Showalter said during his post-game press conference after a 5-2 win over the Yankees. “It’s a very proud club.
“Everybody here has had their nose bloodied,” Showalter continued. “And you’ve got a choice to make.”
One thing that has been different in Baltimore is the length of his tenure as manager. The end of this season will mark the longest Showalter has ever managed a team and it doesn’t look like he will be leaving anytime soon.
Showalter has proven that he can take teams with the worst possible records in the major leagues and turn them into perennial playoff teams time after time. What is his next step? He needs to lead a team to the World Series. What about after that? He needs to win a World Series.
Will this 2014 team be THE team that takes Showalter to the promise land? Do they have what it takes to win the AL East and go toe-for-toe with arguably the best pitching staffs in the majors in Oakland and Detroit? Is this the best team Showalter has ever managed?
OK, I might be getting ahead of myself there. It’s not even September yet, but you get the point.
Only time will answer those questions. And, for once, time is on our hands. We will get an answer in a little over two months’ time. But one thing has already been answered. The culture around Baltimore has changed. This town is, once again, a baseball town and their damn proud of it.